Perhaps the most unifying theme of Clare Fisher’s collection, The Moon is Trending(Salt Publishing, 2023), is the body. There is eating, pissing, shitting, slapping, spot-popping and fucking galore in this direct, unabashed book that’s filled with characters who question their identity and the very reality around them. If the style or substance of the preceding sentence offends you in any way, then this may not be the short story collection for you. That, though, would be your loss: Fisher’s prose if frank, funny, and feels like the kind of book that could be studied in a hundred years’ time to get a real feel for some prominent aspects of 2020s UK culture. Any handful of stories might touch upon mindfulness, drugs, social media, queer living, existentialism, ecological concern, male fragility, Tinder and capitalism. There’s something for everyone.
Granted, on the surface, that may all seem a bit overwhelming, but that’s half the point: it’s 2023 and life is complicated for anyone juggling a tedious job, complicated relationships, escalating energy bills and climate change, not to mention the feeling of having a cock, even if (as in the story ‘Inappropriate’) ‘no one could see it’.
Given the emphasis on LGBTQI+ narratives, questions of what is seen and unseen, real and unreal, as well as what is said and left unsaid, are central to the collection and Fisher illuminates different lives with insight, sensitivity, and stylistic flair. Most impressively – and refreshingly – the author frequently does this with great wit. Few clichés of linguistic or modern, urban life escape Fisher’s comic, sometimes caustic observations, whether it’s about the sudden popularity of ‘books about mushrooms and how they would save us from everything’ (‘Last Dance’), or well-meaning individuals who are amusingly hyperbolic, if nonetheless, cringingly performative – as one character asks in ‘The Big Squeeze’: ‘Is this fabric biodegradable? I am pretty sure I can feel the microfibres grazing my liver.’
One of the refraining questions in the collection, asked in a variety of ways, is: are you okay? The answer often seems to be not really. The consequence of this is, in some cases, physical immobility – Sophie comes to a complete physical standstill in ‘Stophanie’ while another protagonist languishes in bed (‘Either Happy, So Happy, To Happy Or’). Stasis also manifests itself in mental circuitousness which is, at times, deliberately exhausting – take, for example, the start of ‘Crime with No Culprit’ with is polysyllabic repetitions that find no relief in the full stop:
You always run, never walk, often run while texting whilst listening to an audiobook whilst voice-noting your mum whilst trying to not-think about that paper you’re failing to write in the hope that the Thing it is missing will, from the depths your subconscious, be revealed, though of course, the passive construction makes it difficult – as you constantly remind your students – to tell who is doing what to whom; you often say this whilst filling out the register or answering emails whilst pretending to fill out the register; the last time you did this, they all looked so shocked, you wondered whether your mouth had taken advantage of your brain’s relative absence to say something, well – obscene.
In some cases, it might be tempting to offer the narrators of these highly-strung overthinkers some unhelpful, unsolicited advice: have a cup of tea / go for a walk / take a nap / see a therapist. But that, I suspect, would lead to some understandable ripostes: you’re not helping, you’re not listening, you don’t understand – a fault found in so many of Fisher’s own flawed creations.
Many of the pieces are on the shorter side (a few pages in length) and playful with the formatting, reflecting the surreal subject matter. Often these stories seem to employ metaphor and allegory, including symbols such as headless bats and miniscule monkeys. There are also interior monologues and interviews. My personal favourites were for the longer, perhaps more conventional short stories such as ‘Leak-Proof’, ‘Terms and Conditions’ and ‘Who’s There’ but this reflects my taste. To be clear: all the works in this collection are written with tremendous assurance, so whether you’re a fan of stories that are more realist in style and structure or if you’re a fan of the ambiguous and absurdist, you’ll very much enjoy this excellent medley.
Taken as a whole, The Moon is Trending is a striking addition to the other short story collection titles in the Salt Modern Stories which can be purchased directly from the publisher.
Rupert Dastur is founding editor at TSS Publishing. He studied English at the University of Cambridge and his writing has been longlisted and shortlisted for various prizes, including the Bath Short Story Award and he won the Federation of Scottish Writers Award in 2018. He is represented by Emma Leong at Janklow & Nesbit and his first novel, CLOUDLESS is due to be published in spring 2025 by Fig Tree.