Caerphilly in South Wales is the location for most of Thomas Morris’s quirky stories which begin with a tale called Bolt, perhaps the name of the young man who narrates it. Or is it that he is about to bolt? In any case, he is about to close the bolt on a video store and, in all likelihood move on from Caerphilly.
Hannah has jilted him but he is staying with her mother in the town, with whom he has always got on well, as can indeed be the way of these things. Then a local lady known as ‘the psychiatrist’ – in fact she is a counsellor – appears in the video store. She invites the young man for burgers, before the unlikely couple repair to her modest abode where they watch a video of Billy Wilder’s The Apartment. Things proceed from there to the bedroom at which point we will draw a veil, so as not to spoil.
And there’s something about this bottom part of town that feels like a garage, like somewhere that people are only passing through, the youthful narrator remarks at one point, just like a voice out of a short story by Billy Roche. Towards the end of the 25-page tale we get another pair of those gently beguiling sentences at which Morris excels. It's misty out and the ground is beginning to stiffen with frost. I go along Mountain Road, the lights of the town disappearing as I move further down the mountain.Sometimes the beauty of a story is in the faithful delineation of such mundane details, which – and again one thinks of Billy Roche- build atmosphere and surround the action with a kind of forlorn love.
Aside from being a place where the less fortunate perhaps are fated to stay all their lives, Caerphilly in Thomas Morris’ engaging stories is a place from which people also leave when they get a chance. The town is somewhere they come back to, say, at Christmas, returning from more hip and sophisticated places like Edinburgh.
The girl who narrates Fugue has returned from studies in that city to meet old mates in a yuletide sea of alcohol. Your father once asked: “What are you running away from?” You told him you weren’t running away from anything. He said: “You are, you’re running away from reality.” For your father, reality means living in South Wales, working a job you hate.
The masterful Castle View is a moving, unsettling story about a young male teacher settling into marriage to a swimming instructor. Things seem relatively hunky-dory, but there is nagging unease, as the young man becomes haunted by his father’s departure from the family when he was a boy. Big Pit concerns a young man who is full of ideas and ‘freelance projects’. His sister arrives and the author so steers it that we begin to look at him in light of what we quickly learn about her - and what we quickly learn about her is not encouraging.
I just didn’t understand why anyone would want a job. Money aside, the work thing made no sense to me. The 30-year old man in the story How Sad, How Lonely prefers to lie in bed for much of the day, or otherwise does the rounds of the seven charity shops in Caerphilly. Filling out a job application almost drives him demented. And though my head felt like it was being tightened with a belt, I agonised over each word, reading and rereading the piece aloud.
His next door neighbour, 25-year old Emma begins to be interested in him, although she has a live-in boyfriend Paul who is so tied up with work that she scarcely sees him. Indeed the reader never meets Paul either, whose shadow somehow hovers over the story.
All the Boys records a stag trip to Dublin by a gang of young Welshmen. Strange Traffic is about the Caerphilly locals who never had the benefit of third level education or the chance, nor perhaps the desire to get away. They are the oldest residents and, spot-lit among them in the story, the twice-widowed elderly man who asks a widow woman out on an innocent date. Just when you think the story is about to end in a welter of disappointment, the tale suddenly warms the embers again as it were, such is Thomas Morris’s rare gift. These are engaging tales with loneliness hovering at their edges from the Dublin-based author.