Sometimes the toxic relationship that needs cleansing is the one you have with yourself

LITERARY FICTION

Patrick Stockwell

The Light Here Changes Everything: A Novella

Texas Review Press

Paperback, 978-1-6800-3192-8, 80 pgs., $19.95

September 24, 2019

 

“Every destination held the promise of bad decisions, the immense risk of failing.”

 

The Light Here Changes Everything by Patrick Stockwell is a contemplative novella that digs deep beneath the surface of addiction and explores one woman’s internal and external conflicts with her forced sobriety after yet another DUI.

 

On her one-year-sober anniversary, Sophie is reluctantly prepared to give the standard speech at her ceremonial AA meeting the night before she plans to set off on a road trip into the Southwestern desert with her boyfriend, Sid. Sophie is rude and passive aggressive toward everyone about her sobriety, including her sponsor, Ms. A. As an act of defiance, or perhaps out of the desire to go off-script for once in the past year, Sophie burns her planned speech and wings it with refreshing and somewhat shocking honesty.

 

After a full year of no alcohol, Sophie has become little more than a sober automaton, going through the motions of living a boring life that she neither asked for nor wants. The road trip with Sid may be just the diversion she needs, even though she knows he has packed a few bottles of booze in the back of the car. This trip may also be a chance to breathe some life into a dying relationship with a man who actually misses the more-exciting drunk Sophie. “He held up his water for a toast. ‘To us.’ Sophie had finished half the bottle before she realized he wanted her to reciprocate. ‘To—’ . . . ‘To putting ourselves back together.’”  

 

Sophie’s main problem is she lacks control over her own sobriety, her future, and even where this road trip will end. Sid holds the car keys and the knowledge of their final destination. Sophie is simply going along, against the nagging advice from her sponsor. The road out west will be punctuated by stops in small towns with nothing better to do than go to a bar. But after her impromptu performance at the previous night’s AA meeting, Sophie has already begun stepping outside of her transparent prison, built from a heavy load of presumptions and assumptions. As Sophie and Sid head out, the air becomes thick with the promise of danger, disaster, growth, and enlightenment with every turn of the page. This uncertain journey into the desert, where the light is magical and changes everything, propels Sophie forward, rather than remaining in a liminal state, forever drifting through sobriety at the whim of others.

 

Patrick Stockwell’s writing is authentic and intense, and while this introspective story is succinct, it never feels truncated or rushed. The main characters, even Sophie, have no last names and are somewhat underdeveloped, but that structure works well here. Everyone, even non-alcoholics, will appreciate The Light Here Changes Everything, because addiction comes in many forms and has many levels of constriction. Sophie embodies every addict who must find the courage and autonomy to shed an old identity and create an entirely new one, seizing back some semblance of control.

 

The Joshua tree is an excellent choice of imagery that represents Sophie’s pilgrimage into the desert. Alcohol’s siren call will never truly be silenced, and like the Joshua tree, Sophie ultimately finds the strength and endurance to survive in a harsh, unforgiving, and adverse environment. Sophie’s sojourn into the desert ambushes her with temptation, and then offers her clarity, self-forgiveness, and hope amidst her transgressions and discouragement. And while Sophie is bedeviled with relationships that may be doing more harm than good, sometimes the toxic relationship that most needs cleansing is the one you have with yourself.

 

By the end of this novella, Sophie has finally reached the precipice of change. The decisions she makes under the vast desert sky will no doubt result in an uncertain future that is perfectly flawed, yet abundant with possibilities of a life worth living—on her terms.

 

Patrick Stockwell is a native of Houston, Texas, and holds an MFA in Creative Writing-Fiction from New Mexico State University, where he served as an assistant editor for Puerto del Sol and a coordinator with La Sociedad para Las Artes and the Distinguished Visiting Writers Series.