I’ve never been to Caerphilly, but maybe I should make the effort. Thomas Morris’ collection of small town stories set in this South Wales town is never going to be a tourist board advertisement, but Caerphilly’s charms shine through as the constant in each of the tales in his debut; its castle and moat, the park with swans and interloper sea birds, its position in a bowl landscape and surrounding hills, the mining museum up the valley and the Tesco, which if not of interest to visitors is definitely a landmark to the residents and makes a regular appearance. It’s Morris’ focus on banalities and the ordinariness of his characters’ worries and concerns that gives this series of ten venn diagram style stories, where characters pop up again in tales that are not solely theirs, such an authentic feel.
Small town life is like that; every day goings-on peppered with the weird and surreal. Some of the weird and surreal becomes town gossip for a few days, sometimes it’s just the fears and doubts of the characters themselves as they muse their humdrum existence and ask themselves that universal question; “is this really it?” But We Don’t Know What We Are Doing isn’t a depressing account of the state of life in towns like Caerphilly. It is a celebration of the town where Morris was raised, of small moments of joy (the father accompanying his stag son to Dublin and texting his wife reassurance as he tucks up his inebriated child; the mother who manages to engage with a girl who rarely speaks, the two-time widower who is excited to walk out with a possible new love interest), of characters we recognise from our own lives, of issues most of us face day to day. Yes, there is strangeness in some of the stories, but life is strange (so too the afterlife featured in the last instalment where characters continue their 2nd life – still in Caerphilly).
This book was a delight. I devoured it in a couple of sittings. It made me laugh, it made me wince, I felt sadness and sympathy. You can’t ask more than that from good fiction, each story a mini piece of pleasure to relish.
Morris is one of a number of writers making waves in short fiction. This collection won Wales Book of the Year 2016. Other collections to check out are Angela Readman’s Don’t Try This At Home and Colin Barrett’s Young Skins.