The Age of Perpetual Light consists of eight tales about light and the search for more of it in our lives. Josh Weil’s stories span people, eras and places, but they are held together by the universal quality of light. Far from a cliched motif representative of the future, it stands stands as a metaphor of tenacity, entrepreneurship, and human progress. Most of the stories are set transitory moments, such as the turn of the century or the dawn of electricity. These moments are representative of the fact that despite the fact that we are always in moments of possible change, the theme of light nonetheless stands as a marker of all that is eternal.
We start with a Jewish dry goods peddler in New York at the start of the twentieth century. In No Flies, No Folly he falls in love with an Amish woman as he reveals an Edison Lamp, in a scene of rather strange yet sweet seduction. Not only does love succeed, but light ‘rising out of the darkness of the water, breaking the horizon, so many lights, so wondrous, bright, new.’ He returns in the final tale, Hello From Here, in which his younger self, a deserter from the Russian army, encounters a photographer was talking ‘always, about only one thing: light.’
The Essential Constituent of Modern Living Standards is about a farmers’ uprising against the monopoly of modern power companies, the realisation of what progress and mechanisation can result in. Power has come to the town, a world ‘opened up in holes, a dawn still stained with spots of night’ and there’s a ‘spark in our frayed ends.’ A couple’s attempt to adjust to a new life in New York could end in tears, but here there is hope, as explored in Beautiful Ground. In Angle of Reflection we hear the yearning and desperation of a Serbian immigrant teenage boy in 1990’s Vermont as he wants to see an experimental satellite, the Soviets’ ‘space mirror.’
Weil’s prose is moving and sensitive, but never overtly emotional. He uses dialect of the time and place, including Yiddish, and weaves the pathos and emotion in with an almost hidden touch. Reflections on the theme are ever present, almost like a heartbeat through the stories, drawn with a sweeping but subtle stroke across the ‘whole world. Edge to edge. Lot by the stark stare of a full Yule moon.’ as in it’s always there. Like your heartbeat
The collection was written over a decade, and follow Weil’s debut Dayton Literary Peace Prize-winning novel, The Great Glass Sea. Light is not only a continual theme, but a character in itself. There’s a sense of never giving up. Wounded hearts always want to be healed, broken bodies mended, crumbling buildings rebuilt. In the book? And in life.
Fables, noir, sci-fi…it’s all in here, and all woven together with the theme. Cab lights, fairy lights, glow worms and sunrise – every type of light features. Characters are richly drawn in masterful language, and we’re taken around the world to places familiar and new. At times things feel a little too fragmented, and it’s unclear what’s happening, but there are some real gems.
The Point of Roughness is a highlight. It sees the protagonist navigating the world with his wife Bess and adopted daughter Orly, a girl with hair ‘so fine as if spun from sunlight.’ It’s light that keeps them going through difficult times as they are forced to deal with their daughter’s autism during winter’s long dark night, and he is forced to deal with obsession, loss and love.
This isn’t about light, but people. ‘How much wattage does it take to illuminate the darkest corners of the human heart?’ he asks. That’s the real question Weil is asking. He might not find the answer, but these stories are a brave and bold exploration into why.