1 February 2022

#Review - Three Nightjars on the First: The Periphery by Cliff McNish, Static by Justine Bothwick and A Few Alterations by Jordan Harrison-Twist

Three more Nightjar Press chapbooks for your delectation. These are, again, books I received in December and as ever, I'd strongly recommend a Nightjar Press subscription which sends you books regularly and provides signed, numbered copies.

Cover for "The Periphery" by 
Cliff McNish. An abstract image
with a yellow background overlain 
by sworls, speckles and splurges of 
black, red and blue.
Photo by Nicholas Royle.
The Periphery
Cliff McNish
Nightjar Press, December 2021
Available as: PB, 15pp
Source: Subscription
ISBN: 9781907341663

I found Cliff McNish's The Periphery truly disturbing, but I had to think hard about why. Opening with the cryptic 'We began to prefer the periphery' the book describes how the unnamed narrator, their wife, children, pets - and the rest of the world - do just that: living on the edges, consuming dregs, looking away, interacting less, committing less. Beginning as a very close-up, very personal and small scale story, its bounds widen and widen until a sort of slow motion apocalypse is occurring. I was reminded of that Arthur C Clarke story with its ending 'overhead, without any fuss, the stars were going out...' except that here the effect seems to be internal, a kind of universal ennui in which humanity is one, but only one, participant. And I found that a really, really difficult idea.

Having considered why I reacted like that, I think it's partly a product of the past eighteen months on-off lockdown, premature opening up, new catastrophe, lockdown again, cycle. The passive life that our narrator finds has an attraction to it simply because it is, clearly, bounded: the common perception of everyone in this book is that this WILL be the end of all things, Sam, and like Frodo and his friend, all is done, all is finished, there is literally nothing to worry about any more. It's a very tempting attitude but at the same time, a very scary one, underlined by the fact nobody here steps out of line, nobody resists. A sort of vision of perfection perhaps but an aside, deal perception.

I think The Periphery will haunt me.
Cover for "Static" by
Justine Bothwick. Against a
background of grass rests a long
piece of wood or stone, a hole
resembling an eye. Photo by 
Nicholas Royle.

Justine Bothwick
Nightjar Press, November 2021
Available as: PB, 12pp
Source: Subscription
ISBN: 9781907341502

Static plays some twisty games with its readers' expectations. On a beach in, I think, Greece, a young German man working as a paddle board instructor trespasses one one summer's day. Or does he? Work asserts his right to be there and the public nature of the beach but still, Efrosini manages to persuade him of some guilt, some kind of crossing the line, perhaps because he had picked up and was going to remove a chunk of fossilised wood. Still she is friendly and invites him in for lunch.

Unknown to Effie, Wolf is being urged on by voices in his head which wish to make the encounter something erotic. Maybe he wants that too? Maybe she does? The writing is I think doing several different things here and Wolf's relationship with that voice (which I suspect is a newish thing to him) is only one of them. We may be in fairytale country, the domain of horror, or witnessing some kind of breakdown. 

The uncertainty itself is delicious, the story perfectly balances between common sense and the fantastical. 

Cover for "A Few Alterations"
by Jordan Harrison-Twist.
Two full-face, passport style
photographs of a man in a 
jacket and sweater.
A Few Alterations
Jordan Harrison-Twist
Nightjar Press, November 2021
Available as: PB, 11pp
Source: Subscription
ISBN: 9781907341618

A Few Alterations is short but Jordan Harrison-Twist fills it with so much and sets up questions that meant I had to read it over several times. At one level, the sense of dis-ease points to something being off from the start - but at another, all the accumulating detail of the narrator's relationship with 'Zürn's tailor shop', their knowledge of dressing and style, the process - which is going on in the story - of obtaining something from the shop, all of that is so spot on that it simply seems like the kind of minutiae that makes up a life. 

I was reminded of the film Phantom Thread, one of my recent favourites. I think both pieces use to their advantage the fact that the worlds of respectively tailoring and dressmaking are present in the background of many of our lives but unknown to most in detail. So many metaphors, allusions and jokes ('So far, with this one, sew good') that add to the richness of the prose and the sense that a great deal is going on which we don't, quite, grasp.

I know that some readers will like to be in command of all the detail, know exactly what's happening and work a story out as though it was a series of puzzles. If that's you, A Few Alterations may not quite be your fit. But if you are comfortable in this style of story, I think it'll suit you very well.

For more information about The Periphery, Static and A Few Alterations and to buy the books or take out a subscription, see the Nightjar Press website at https://nightjarpress.weebly.com

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