Kimberly King Parsons' 'Black Light' Explores Ordinary People With A "Furious Desire To Escape The Everyday"

Penguin Random House

If you swore to read more short stories in 2019 and you love poetic, prodding explorations of twisted characters who are just a little too much like you for comfort, I have a recommendation: Black Light by Kimberly King Parsons, a debut story collection that's already racked up praise from Amy Hempel, T Kira Madden, Hannah Lillith Assadi, and Belletrist, Emma Roberts' book recommendation site.

Parsons tells Bustle over email that readers can expect "voice-driven stories about losers, weirdos, children, and bighearted f*ckups."

"Some of the characters are outsiders in their insular communities, but for the most part they are ordinary people trying and failing (and sometimes making extraordinarily bad decisions)," she says. "They're bored and lusty, caught up in various games with drugs, sex, love, and deprivation, each connected by a furious desire to escape the everyday."

Although the collection won't be available until August 13, you can read some of Parsons' stories online right now (My favorite story is "We Don't Come Natural To It," which opens with a line as bracing as it is revolting: "Suki and me, we’re hungry and mean. We’ve got bitter jewels buzzing in our guts.") Below, Bustle has an exclusive look at the cover and a Q&A with Kimberly King Parsons:

Bustle: Writing a short story collection gives one so many opportunities to explore different characters and themes and locations. What are some of the people, places, and ideas you wanted to explore in this collection?

It’s a very odd thing to see your desires, obsessions, and preoccupations set out side by side in a book, but these are some of mine, for better or worse: gross motel rooms, hot girls with chipped teeth, community theatre, people washing their feet, blood, gauze, glittery lip gloss, women singing, dirty amateur photos, unsupervised children, and bowling.

It’s a very odd thing to see your desires, obsessions, and preoccupations set out side by side in a book.

I’m a native Texan — my family goes back five generations — and Black Light is full of the gas stations, highways, and fast food places of my youth. I hoped to write a book that could capture what it felt like to grow up strange in that strange landscape, but it’s important to note that Texas means different things to different people. Geography alone determines so much about the industry, class, identity, and even the accents of people in a particular region. There are a few dusty, small-town stories in the collection, but others take place in indistinctive suburbs, in un-zoned inner cities, in fancy Hill Country boarding schools, etc.

There's no way to control what readers take away from your work, but if you could choose, do you hope they would put down your collection with a particular feeling or emotion?

I want to emphasize that though these stories contain lots of heavy subject matter — addiction/compulsion, bad love, kids trying to make sense of their chaotic home lives — these characters are not gloomy or glum. They may be in serious situations, but they're incapable of taking themselves too seriously. They’re funny, wry and smart-mouthed, confrontational but (hopefully!) not without charm.

They may be in serious situations, but they're incapable of taking themselves too seriously.

You're also writing a novel about "Texas, motherhood, and LSD” out sometime next year — can you give us any more details on that?

Sure — I’m finishing a novel that’s getting weirder by the day. The Texas part is probably clear by now — I left 15 years ago but can’t seem to shut up about it — and motherhood and LSD are not quite as disparate as you might think (anybody who spends their days with small children can tell you how utterly psychedelic their experience of the world is). But the book is literally about hallucinogens as well: a new mother with a history of positive, formative experiences with LSD finds herself compelled (by a series of strange coincidences) to return to her dismal hometown.

Black Light by Kimberly King Parsons is available for pre-order now.