I knew as soon as I read Elyan Smith’s short story Zones in the UK MAT anthology Lashings of Sauce that he was an author whose work I wanted to know much better. Zones is the touching story of a transgender woman who is trying desperately to find her place in the world, to find her place within herself, and to find her place within her partner’s family. This story was so moving and memorable to me not only because of the subject but also because of the author’s writing; it is dense with emotion and atmosphere and sometimes felt cloying, like a heart-wrenching yet hopeful dream.
I can now honestly say that this wasn’t a fluke, because Portside, Elyan Smith’s debut short story, is equally and beautifully oppressive, which is a huge oxymoron but true nonetheless. This is a story set in a bleak town where Iwan lives a bleak life in a bleak house where anything resembling hope is quashed by the harsh economic times and lack of opportunities for him, for his best friend Lyn, for his family. His life is a place where cigarettes and alcohol are comfort in their constancy, where picture postcards of faraway places are the one dimensional dreams of everything his life isn’t, where the depthless face of the television screen pays mocking tribute to the austerity of his life.
Portside is in no way a romance. It is pure literary fiction and it explores the life of a young man who wants for everything but doesn’t dare want for much. He is a young man trying to fit in his own skin, even though that skin doesn’t quite fit who he is. He is a young man who has dared to hope, and in that hope he might find a way to connect with the one person about whom he dreams of something more—a portside boy, Jonah—who is the golden prize at the end of the monochromatic rainbow.
This was a difficult story for me to relate to on some levels, mostly because I couldn’t be looking at it from further outside Iwan’s perspective, but that’s really what made me try all the harder to empathize with him and his longing for something more than what he had, and in the end, it worked with a certain sort of somber beauty.
Buy Portside HERE.