...ten richly imagined, superbly controlled stories ... Frequently, Power presents characters displaced from home, in lonely communion with themselves, defined by landscapes in which they feel themselves to be lost ... Restrained yet formally ambitious, these marvellously crafted stories brim with menace and moments of truth.
You won’t be able to put it down: As soon as you finish the quietly suspenseful book, you’ll want to reread its opening story ... 'The author laureate of not knowing,' as Power once described Chekhov in a Guardian column, has taught him well.
Extraordinary ... Power has an intelligent and confidently idiosyncratic approach to the form. His tone is generally affectless, but modulated with dry humour, and his images are sharply drawn and often haunting. There is an obsessive quality to the best of these stories that makes them feel pregnant with inscrutable meaning. Many of them, even those that deal exclusively with adult characters, have the bittersweet mood, the uncanny logic and the peculiar sheen of childhood memory ... when I reached the end, I was close to tears and felt compelled to reread the first two stories in the sequence, the better to appreciate how Eva’s life came so dramatically off the rails. It is testament to the depth and distinctiveness of Power’s characters that it seems so important to try to understand them, even as they fail to understand themselves.
Power writes arrestingly, particularly about nature... simultaneously poetic and precise, with its wonderful rolling rhythm bearing the computational language of division, shifting, fractions. Mothers is also brilliantly controlled (for any collection of stories, let alone a first collection) ... takes a theme too complex to approach except obliquely – the conflict between love and freedom – and, like a particle accelerator, repeatedly fires ideas at it to see what can be inferred from the collision. Power writes mothers, but also daughters, sons, lovers, families and bickering couples, testing different ages, sexualities, genders and cultures to create a composite which arrives at more than the sum of its parts – not a clutch of episodes, but a single, unified, many-sided work, best read cover to cover.
Resist[s] superficial analysis in a way that is interesting in itself. Power is an extraordinarily unshowy craftsman, so that discussing the writing itself feels like trying to focus on the glass of a window, rather than the view beyond. This is partly a function of the transparency of the prose, which so lacks ornament as to almost feel bald in places, and partly to do with the disposition of his narrators, all of whom share a kind of emotional reserve that is close to affectlessness ... So much is left unsaid that the result is a deliberately frustrating gap in interpretation ... internationalist in outlook...This gives the collection a flavour that might have been less noticeable five years ago, but in today’s political climate feels eloquent ... a uniquely unsettling and subtle debut collection; one wonders if a longer work might also be on the cards.
[In the story 'The Crossing'], Power masterfully builds the tension between Ann and Jim, as minor miscalculations and inconveniences... become ever more dangerous. These stories are intrigued by danger, real and imagined, particularly in the context of celebrations, jaunts and holidays ... The prose, often expository and straightforward, is elevated by striking use of metaphor and simile.
... and throughout Mothers Power exhibits a... knack for detail in his depictions of the way people navigate disintegrating relationships, whether due to fading sexual chemistry or the barriers put up by mental illness ... Power lets some of the connections among the stories reveal themselves slowly, and each one can comfortably stand on its own, though the final two chapters are united by the imprint of Eva’s physic pain ... Mothers proves an elegant collection, touching on a host of issues deeply ingrained in our modern experience: the fragility of human connection, the impulse to travel, and the painful ramifications of mental illness, among others. Power’s prose is spare and exacting, excising the needless word in pursuit of emotional truth. Mothers proves a rewarding experience for the lover of quiet short stories that speak volumes.
The collection as a whole is engaging and rarely flags, with characters’ dilemmas playing out in various interesting scenarios from Swedish burial sites to dance clubs in Paris to treacherous river crossings in the English countryside. The way Power skilfully mixes the petty resentments of domestic life with the wider world recalls Elske Rahill’s recent collection In White Ink, and the wonderful drawing on nature and science in the stories of Danielle McLaughlin.
More often than not, Power’s characters are also unable to foresee the impacts of their actions. Instead of looking ahead, they yearn for the individual moments in their lives to mean something, a quality that makes them lovingly human ... With less precision, another author might have rendered a character like Liam simply pathetic; instead, Power manages to convey in 'Above the Wedding' the universality of a certain ache, of simply not knowing which experiences, which people, will hold weight in the future ... Power succeeds in describing the impulse to rely on narrative as a reconciliatory salve at the same time as he conveys its difficulty. The fear that telling one’s story won’t redeem one’s past runs through the whole of the collection; it silences characters, leading them to internalize and brood over their perceived failures.
It is daring to write a book in which many of the characters take pains to ensure their emotions are hard to read, hiding what they feel from each other, from themselves, from us. Absorbing so much dislocation requires a special sort of focus from the reader that takes time to develop. It isn’t that the stories are especially gloomy, for they have a glassy, modish aspect to them, an aura of cool in all senses of the word, which guards against gloom. It’s more that they can be curiously excluding, aloof almost, holding the reader at arm’s length. I read the collection and then read the stories again in a different order to try to get inside them more, and as I did they grew in strength and atmosphere ... It’s the things at the very edge of the stories, barely touched on, that seem to hold the most emotional weight here ... These are strange stories, forbidding and unnerving, which need to be read carefully with an ear trained to what isn’t being said, what isn’t being heard.
Since 2007, Chris Power has been surveying the history of short fiction in a column for the Guardian. Now his own debut collection has arrived and the fruits of his research are detectable on every page ... Many of the ten sensitively executed stories in Mothers take place near sites of remembered, suppressed or imagined trauma ... In Power’s remarkable debut, he depicts mood, happenstance, self-deception and epiphany as well as any of his heroes. In using studied artifice, leaving out everything extraneous, he reveals life’s complexity: the very chaos that we reckon with by telling stories.
Power, too, has this writerly strength [of writing short stories that function well in isolation] ... Power is funny. He puts forth absurdity in the way you’d expect of a more modern (and better socialized) narrator of Beckett’s ... Power’s literary feat in Mothers is in his stretching the hermeneutic bands of the very term mother.
Rather than offering explanations, these stories thrive on closely observed details and moments told with both pathos and humor as characters confront the surprising twists and turns of love, sexual awakening, marriage, parenting, and decisions of life or death ... Power asks us to consider and appreciate the very human and humanizing experience of striving for something just out of reach, or for opportunities just passed by.
Contains enough greatness to recover from sometimes repetitious narratives ... There’s plenty to admire in Power’s writing, and the author mines his characters for unexpected traits and decisions, making for an auspicious debut.
Power’s internationalist 10-story debut is populated by travelers of many kinds—by characters lost in the world or in themselves ... Despite its uneven moments, Power’s wide-ranging debut is confident, complex, bizarre, poignant, and elegantly crafted—a very strong collection.