Light Box – K J Orr

Light Box

Light Box is an incredible collection of eleven short stories that are broadly linked by a theme of transition and its accompanying sense of foreignness. We are given snapshots of characters in the midst of disorientating change: an astronaut’s wife adjusting to her husband’s return to Earth; a man who knows that he is slowly going blind; a father coming to terms with his daughter’s illness; a businessman struggling with life away from work. The transitions cause the characters to re-evaluate their current circumstances and past actions, revealing that loss, regret and loneliness are central influences in many of their lives. Crucially, these transitions and emotions are never completed or resolved in the course of the story – we witness only a brief moment in time, with the result that the characters and their situations linger on in the mind for a long while afterwards.

K J Orr’s writing is exceptionally vivid, her characters instantly clear. I can’t put my finger on exactly what it is that launches you so quickly and deeply into the scenes, but the evocation of atmosphere and emotion is startlingly intense. It’s like jumping into what you expect to be a puddle, but which turns out to be a lake. In fact, I didn’t intend to start reading Light Box when I did: I just picked it up and flipped to the first page, and before I knew it I’d read the first story. I was hooked on Orr’s writing style, slowed down only by the fact that it takes a while to fully ‘digest’ each story after reading it.

To give you an example of the Orr’s brilliant writing, here is a short extract from the opening story of the collection, ‘The Lake Shore Limited’:

It had started a couple of months in. He hadn’t noticed at first. He had been aware instead of changes in his hands. His fingers developed blistered patches – tiny, swollen, liquid puffs. He noticed these before the counting. He bothered them. He broke the surface of the skin to let the liquid out. And then the counting. Once he had noticed the counting he watched himself doing it with an awareness that seemed to offer nothing in the way of helping him stop.

   One, two.
   One, two.
   Like breathing.

I highly recommend Light Box to anyone and everyone – even if (or maybe especially if) you don’t usually read short stories. It is an absolutely fantastic collection and I can’t wait to see what K J Orr writes next.

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