Phillip Gardner of Florence has a new book, “Available Light,” that will be released on Nov. 1 by Bitingduck Press. Gardner teaches English at Francis Marion University and is a singer for the local band, The Woodys. A collection of 18 short stories, “Available Light” is a lyrically written journey through love, loss, hope, and reconciliation. Previously published in national and international journals, the stories have garnered acclaim from authors and critics. Gardner’s previous collections include “Somebody Wants Somebody Dead” (Boson Books 2012) and “Someone to Crawl Back To” (Boson Books 2003). The stories in “Available Light” are related by place and theme. Most of the stories are set in or related to South Carolina where men and women, husbands and wives, adults and young children search for connections that only love can bring: a husband seeks to understand the sudden erratic changes in his wife; adult sisters uncover truths about their long-divorced and deceased parents; a widow discovers that her need for love lives beyond the man she loved; a young boy comes to new realizations about his parents’ divorce; a man struggles with his love for his child as his marriage dissolves; a father makes final preparations before telling his young daughter that her brother is dead.
The final story combines the book’s central motifs and speaks to the conditions of contemporary America. The main character, a plant worker on the verge of losing his job, tries to reconcile the loss of a child by finding a connection with a father he never really knew, and in doing so finds a new depth of love for his wife. Although the subject matter for the book is serious, there are plenty of laughs, as when a wife decides out of spite to give away her ex-husband’s Cadillac “to the right man”; and four men discuss their ex-wives’ murder fantasies; and a woman’s lover refashions her neighbor’s Pooh flag into a pornographic banner. These are stories about life and death, about kindness and cruelty, about tenderness and pain; about people who, no matter what, have the capacity to love–and who know it. The first story is available for preview on the publisher site, and is offered in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. In the end, the book produces the emotional effects of a novel. Themes of life and death, of the deep and abiding need for love and fear of losing that love create a cumulative effect as the stories unfold.
Although the themes here are universal, the protagonists are local: a warehouse worker, a lawyer, a mini-van mom, an insurance salesman, a manufacturing plant foreman, and a cosmetics sales representative. Southern readers will enjoy the local color, and everyone from teens to grandparents will find characters whose emotions speak to them. Thirteen of the stories included have been published in journals or magazines with national and international circulation or are contest winners. Ron Rash, author of “Serena” and “One Foot in Eden,” says, “This new collection leaves no doubt that Phillip Gardner is in the first tier of the South’s finest short story writers. His empathetic imagination, vivid language, and understanding of what makes a memorable story are of the first order. His voice is utterly his own. Available Light takes the reader beyond the realm of pain and pleasure and into the sublime.” The book will be available in paperback and all electronic formats. DRM-free versions of the e-book will be sold on the Bitingduck Press webstore.
“This new collection leaves no doubt that Phillip Gardner is in the first tier of the South’s finest short story writers. His empathetic imagination, vivid language, and understanding of what makes a memorable story are of the first order. His voice is utterly his own. Available Light takes the reader beyond the realm of pain and pleasure and into the sublime.” —Ron Rash, author of Serena and One Foot in Eden