The Big Light

From "The Big Light"

"I have to tell my wife it’s just a thunderclap, a far off scrap of sound booming the sky overhead. I use my palm to say it, knead where her shoulder blades hook below the sheets, but she’s dreamt herself away from here, lying, I know, somewhere in a desert. It’s just as well I go back to sleep."

This story was originally published by the University of New Hampshire Magazine.

About the Author

"Nathan J. Fink." November 13, 2012.

Nathan J. Fink received his MFA in Fiction from the University of New Hampshire. Currently, he lives in Chicago where he teaches writing at DePaul University.

Interview With the Author

CA: What is important about reading and writing short fiction, in contrast to other genres (memoir, academic writing, journalism)?

Truth. More precisely, the capacity for emotional truth freed from the confines of the substantiated. Of course a writer friend of mine couldn’t disagree more. For him, verity determines effect, value. Much like a boot maker, the writer fashions reportage from the last of what has happened, stitching along an event’s edge. For me, however, value is something altogether different. It is experiential. I want to read and write stories that resonate emotionally, invented or not. It’s what I admire about this genre in particular, how it can needle everyday life, dismantle, rearrange, augment, condense, and then present it in such a way that illuminates sometimes new, sometimes old avenues of the human experience. Yes, there is much to love about fiction: character, voice, structure, language; in fact, I view all genres, academic or otherwise, as variation of story, but the importance of short fiction lies in it ability to make the unknown known, or at the very least considered. The good stuff forces us to feel. And that is as real anything I know.

CA: What does fiction reveal about social worlds?

At its best, fiction dissects them. Catalogues. Submits findings. I’m reminded of that poor frog in Biology, frisked and unzipped. How I wish footage existed of that class in particular. Not, of course, to view gruesome acts visited upon a handful of amphibians, but I do wonder after my boyhood self: eager? slipshod? armed with the fine edge of a joke? Or perhaps “trembling” is the word. Whatever the case may be, my handling of that moment admits the person I was, am, and likely will come to be. The same can be said of fiction. As readers we are scolded for psychoanalyzing authors—at least I was—and I’m not suggesting we do that now, but fiction is germane to paradigms, and they, these authors, exist in certain cultures, social strata, etc. Literature cannot help but demonstrate collective consciousness. It is the reason why stories written in times of war differ from those written in times of peace. Financial distress, as opposed to affluence. Subject, characters, structural components reflect at the very least a modicum of cultural norms, if not mouthfuls. More than anything, however, I want to be the boy that scooped up every last frog and quit the school for a pond near by, but I’d lying if I said I did. Anyway, I think that was E.T.

CA: Your story "The Big Light" takes a very visual, action-oriented approach while simultaneously distorting time so that the reader experiences a moment in slow motion and from several emotional angles.  Can you talk about the relationship of your writing to image and action?

While I admit to being a writer’s writer, or maybe a writer’s reader is what I mean, where eloquent prose and vivid, well-etched images can sustain my interest for hour on end, at this point it is no longer enough. If I’m to occupy a metaphysical space, yes, I’d like cattails to wage from the ditch and a wind raked grass darkening richer blots of green, but more than anything what I want is to move through it. Landscape, concrete detail, these things help us stand firmly in the imagined, but without character action we have little with which to identify. After all, do we not share more in common with a distressed loved-one reaching out than a sandy pitch of earth? Isn’t that why we read, to encounter ourselves?

In “The Big Light” I fought to be as visual as possible, for—as tyrannical as it may sound—I wanted to control the imagined space; the action, however, is what I hope readers experience, rendered, as you’ve noted, in various layers: a husband telling a story about his wife, the husband being told a story by his wife, the wife’s story. (And the multiple shoots and ladders that connect them.) In the end, the husband’s great act is simply to have told a story, one about his wife and the violent events that changed her, now him, and their marriage. Without image, that is the story in its entirety: man recalls what wife told him. Not much impact.

Done well, image lets us attend the event. Action lets us identify, consider what we ourselves might have done in a similar situation.