Ends Of Our Tethers: Thirteen Sorry Stories Hardcover – Mar 12 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
Gray, the Scottish author of the novels Lanark and the Whitbread-winning Poor Things, among others, returns to the form he first visited in Unlikely Stories, Mostly with a collection filled with wry and mordant humor. In these 13 stories, Gray dances across many of the discontents of modern life, but lingers at the divides of gender and age. Set mainly in Glasgow during the present day, the talesâ"many so short they're more like sharp, eccentric sketchesâ"feature characters and narrators who observe their world with a mixture of wistfulness and disappointment. "Big Pockets with Button Flaps" opens with a pair of teenage girls trading banter with an old man with odd, semisexual proclivities and closes with a series of reversals in situation and power. In "No Bluebeard," a man recounts his three failed marriages and the unexpected surrender that led to a successful fourth ("It is almost impossible to judge the intelligence of someone from an alien culture so I have never discovered exactly how stupid or mad Tilda is"). In "Miss Kincaid's Autumn," a brother and sister live together far more harmoniously than most married couples, while "Aiblins" centers on the frustrating interactions between an established poet and the young, half-crazed upstart who may or may not be the genius he claims to be. This is a book with a sneaky, cumulative power; the prose is as spare and provocative as the illustrations of leering demon skulls and sly young women drawn by Gray himself.
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Accosted by teen thugs, a man "no longer young" seems in for it; then "the smaller, more dangerous-looking youth" recognizes his old teacher; though safe, the man "smiles rather wistfully at the tall youth's combat trousers." Another man shelters a strange young woman fleeing her family; tolerating her profound peculiarities because she's good in bed, he eventually marries her, after which she refuses to sleep with him; he sifts through his three previous marriages for a clue to what it is about him. An author teaching creative writing meets an eccentric young poet who spurns all coaching and then disappears, only to resurface, beaten-looking, years later, demanding that the writer get his original manuscript published, even if under the writer's name; more years pass, and the poet shows up again, yet more decrepit--has the writer's refusal to help driven him insane? At least two persons seem to have reached tether's end in each of the amusingly distressing new stories by the author of the modern Scots classic Lanark (1981). Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
I read Poor Things a year or so after this book and liked it FAR less. That book, although a good yarn, seemed trite next to this book. It seemed a bit gimmicky; the tricks that Gray uses throughout that book were fun but didn't leave a lasting impression.
In "Ends of our Tethers" Alasdair Gray achieves a beautiful harmony between postmodern mashup of style and deep, true characters. "Sinkings" and "No Bluebeard" are stories that are presented almost as lists. The first being three brief scenarios where the narrator was emotionally damaged and insulted by the people around him, the second is a male narrator recounting the tale of his various ruined marriages, the wives referred to simply as FIRST, SECOND, and THIRD.
My favorite of these stories are those that add a touch of the surreal. "Big Pockets with Buttoned Flaps" and "15 February 2003" seem to take place in a future dystopia. The narrators of these stories are filled with an existential kind of despair.
I can't recommend this book enough. Sometimes visionary sometimes just interesting and enjoyable. Gray's illustrations also add to the experience of this book. The leering skulls seem both friendly and evil.