William Boyd has a well-deserved reputation as a highly inventive writer. The fourteen stories in his collection Fascination are another testimony to that inventiveness.
In general Boyd’s work is extremely competent, smart, well-wrought in every way, with fine writing too. Boyd is particularly masterful at employing very short sections to quickly establish and deftly and economically build up his narratives. Some of these stories are composed of paragraph-long sections representing distinct points of view that together produce a sort of pastiche of sensory data and information, and in this way lay out the drama involved.
In “Incandescence” multiple—in this case half a dozen, with almost all the characters pitching in—points of view produce a marvelous tapestry of fiction. Not only that but within each paragraph dedicated to each of these half dozen players—only the villain, Frank-Rory doesn’t have a say in his defense—the concision is so extreme, yet what is rendered so complete, that nothing more is required.
Boyd has this knack—or rather, more likely, a talent highly developed through a great deal of practice and revision—for implying far more in what he writes than he states. But this is done in such a way that there is no ambiguity whatsoever. I could take entire paragraphs and peel them apart for learning purposes. Every line, every word, every slightest nuance counts in these remarkable short stories. There is no waste or padding at all. And although some of the endings are barely that, and more a finish line that has suddenly been drawn in the ground, across which the narrative has just stepped, “Incandescence” finishes in a more traditional and complete way.
I have to state that I don’t mind the way Boyd doesn’t wrap his stories up with a little bow at the end. He has always completed his mission as a narrator by then. But these stories indicate, to some degree, the different sensibilities that are separated by the expanse of the Atlantic ocean. I personally prefer endings that aren’t so entirely and neatly resolved for the reader. And I appreciate the way Boyd relies upon the reader’s own capacity to end the story in their mind, and accept the implications of everything that has been laid out before their eyes, and agree with him that that is more than enough: it is sufficient.
Some of the stories in this collection (for example “The Haunt”) do feel a little too contrived though—and almost pointless really, in the end—and a little too tidily wrapped, in this one case, up for my liking.
In another story—“Fantasia on a Favorite Waltz”—there were some glaring errors: i.e., one entirely unexpected use—in the context of an otherwise neutral and natural narrative voice—of ‘was’ when it should have been ‘were’ to suddenly shift into a closer POV, that of the prostitute telling the story. Boyd’s prose is usually spot-on, not only precise and accurate but imaginatively vibrant and to the point. But in this story he writes, “The wind off the harbor was full of threatening rain, and the gas lamps wore their mist-drop halos like shimmering crowns in the gathering dark.”
I know exactly what he means, but ‘mist-drop’ is a little clumsy in the context of the other words in that sentence, or just not as smooth as usual. And then it’s followed, a little too closely, by “the boy…blinking his pale-lashed blue eyes at her.”
What Boyd does best in all of these stories is provide, in an extremely concise and efficient manner, the crux of the drama in very few words, few sentences, few paragraphs. Economy like that which Body demonstrates in these fourteen stories is the envy of all writers.
Author photo by Michael Fennell – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11886977