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Light Lifting [Paperback]

Alexander MacLeod
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Sept. 15 2010
This was the day after Mike Tyson bit off Evander Holyfield’s ear. You remember that. It was a moment in history – not like Kennedy or the planes flying into the World Trade Centre – not up at that level. This was something much lower, more like Ben Johnson, back when his eyes were that think, yellow colour and he tested positive in Seoul after breaking the world-record in the hundred. You might not know exactly where you were standing or exactly what you were doing when you first heard about Tyson or about Ben, but when the news came down, I bet it stuck with you. When Tyson bit off Holyfield’s ear, that cut right through the everyday clutter. –from ‘Miracle Mile’

Two long-distance runners race a cargo train through a rat-infested tunnel underneath the Detroit River. A pre-adolescent drug store bicycle courier crosses a forbidden threshold in an attempt to save a life, only to risk his own. A young swimmer conquers her fear of water only to discover she’s caught in far more dangerous currents.

In Light Lifting, Alexander MacLeod’s long-awaited first collection of short stories, the author offers us a suite of darkly urban and unflinching elegies for a city and community on the brink. Anger and violence simmer just beneath the surface and often boil over, resulting in both tragedy and tragedy barely averted. But as bleak as these stories sometimes are, there is also hope, beauty and understanding.

Alexander McLeod's stories are as disturbing, compelling and true as any currently being written in this or any country.

Frequently Bought Together

Light Lifting + Island: The Collected Stories of Alistair MacLeod + Dear Life
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Product Description

Quill & Quire

Light Lifting is one of those rare debuts: a breathtakingly good collection of short fiction that heralds the arrival of a significant new talent. It’s also the sort of book one worries won’t get the attention it deserves.

The seven stories each encompass a keenly observed, immersive world, and each carries the weight and impact of a novel. They are reminiscent of the work of Alice Munro at her best: rich and deep, merciless and utterly unflinching.

MacLeod’s stories are shorn of sentimentality but drenched in an amorphous yearning, an omnipresent sense of loss and peril that seeps into even the happiest moments. “Good Kids,” about a family of four boys and their relationship with the boy who lived briefly in the rental house across the street, exemplifies a sense of sharp nostalgia: “Our sticks were Koho and Sherwood shafts with plastic blades that had been wickedly curved over the front burner of the stove and we usually played with tennis balls that were too small and kept falling down through the grates of the sewer.” These reminiscences are balanced with keen insight into the casual, almost inevitable brutality that even “good” kids are capable of. 

Despite that underlying sense of sadness, the characters in Light Lifting aren’t adrift. They’re rooted firmly in the real world of work and family. In “Wonder About Parents,” a head-lice infestation serves as the springboard for the history of a relationship and a family, from a drunken dorm-room night to checking each other’s hair for nits, from fertility problems to a child in danger. It’s surprisingly suspenseful – the perilousness of life and love is laid out almost clinically – yet also deeply resonant.

Light Lifting is a brilliant collection without a weak link. Steeped in the guts and sadness of life, it provides moments of pure literary transcendence. Don’t let it get overlooked.


"A thoughtful, beautifully crafted, big-hearted work" -- Anne Enright "Alexander MacLeod's control of cadence and rhythm is so complete that it seems effortless. These stories offer a real pleasure which comes from the sense of life and emotional honesty in them. The pleasure also comes from their beautiful tone and something in the voice which is both relaxed and perfect. They contain a rare kind of truthfulness." -- Colm Toibin "Every so often a new writer comes along with a true gift for elegant, conversational simplicity" LA Times "Outstanding" -- Suzi Feay Independent "Brilliant...engrossing, thrilling and ultimately satisfying: each story has the weight of a novel" The Economist --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Ferocious physicality" June 8 2011
By Friederike Knabe TOP 100 REVIEWER
The world that Alexander MacLeod's protagonists inhabit is not an easygoing or a comfortable one, it is - a realistic one. Set in different urban milieus, many of his characters are young, struggling to get ahead in life. Some confront personal adversity, hoping for companionship or friendship, others attempt to find solace and even redemption. With his debut story collection MacLeod exhibits an exquisite writing talent that succeeds in capturing, with precision and depth, both the inner workings of the individual's psyche and their social and physical circumstances. The back cover of the book describes the author - very aptly I find - as a writer of "ferocious physicality".

The majority of the seven stories are written in first person voices, drawing the reader intimately into each of the narrators' points of view on concrete experiences in their lives. In 'Miracle Mile', Michael, while preparing for an important international running meet, reflects back on his long friendship with his closest competitor. As children they already raced together, and sometimes, at night, they risked their lives by running through a cross-border train tunnel beneath the Detroit river. One dangerous run is so vividly depicted, that I felt myself holding my breath until I knew that the kids were both safely on the other side. In this and other stories the author describes in detail the material details that underpin any of his protagonists' physical activities: be it running, swimming, holing bricks, or manoeuvring a bicycle on the icy roads in winter.

While most central characters are young men and only very few women hold an important place in a story, the story of Stace in 'Adult Beginner I' stands out.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Extraordinariness of Ordinary Lives March 13 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
In these seven stories by Canadian author Alexander MacLeod, we meet for the most part people in ordinary lives: young parents, bricklayers, swimming-pool lifeguards, a drugstore delivery boy, an auto worker. The only really extraordinary ones are the principal characters in the opening story, "Miracle Mile," two middle-distance runners with a chance at making the Olympic team. MacLeod has an amazing ability to present their lives with the utmost intensity. Sometimes he does this with intense self-absorption, sometimes by evoking the jargon of the sport or trade, sometimes unleashing a blizzard of short phrases, as this harassed father driving his wife and baby on a Christmas visit: "Everybody on their way. Express and collector. Keep your distance. A two-car-length minimum. Exit for the 404. Exit for the 407. Don't get trapped by the QEW. Don't go to Hamilton. My right blinker. My right blinker again. The polite wave. Adjust to the pace. Small openings where someone will let you in. Tight margins. Sweat on the steering wheel."

This comes from the second story, "Wonder About Parents," a magnificent evocation of life with a young baby, interwoven with flashbacks of meeting and courtship, and a history of the human head louse. There is very little story as such, only a series of minor crises and perhaps less minor ones, which may or may not be overcome. The open-endedness is characteristic of all these stories, which are not so much resolved as set in motion, often by some act of unexpected violence, leaving the reader to do the work. In this story, for instance, we may not know how things will work out with the baby, but we do end up very close to the parents, with the feeling that they will get through it, whatever happens.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent read Nov. 25 2010
One of the best short story collections I have ever read - and I read a lot. Every story held my interest until the very end - and the endings all were a surprise - I really enjoyed every minute I spent reading this book.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Light Lifting, Causing Some Disquiet Sept. 6 2012
By Scoopriches TOP 500 REVIEWER
A vow was made some time ago that my reviews would reflect things I loved, or even liked a lot. Something that caused mixed feelings were not factored in. Hence, my hesitation over Light Lifting by Alexander MacLeod.

This collection of short stories was recommended to me by my friends @kveenly and @rebeccahh95, who have excellent tastes in literature. But I can't help feel something is missing from my understanding of this volume. It was nominated for the Giller Award in 2010, which is impressive, but for me it seemed average.

Alexander has a nice writing style, poetic in some places, with several sentences that just sing off the page. At times passages are very spellbinding, making you cheer or feel sorry for a character. He seems at his best in these spots, bringing his full power out in order to score an emotional point. The bottom of the swimming pool scene in Adult Beginner I illustrates his talents here precisely.

Wonder About Parents is my favourite of these seven stories. The journey is compelling and the use of flashbacks fill in so much of the feelings. It also features very short, snappy sentences, made to form like memory fragments. This feature is enchanting and inventive.

The downfall for my enjoyment was the length, endings and/or topics of each piece. It seemed like most entries were too long, with padding to make them epic in some way. And most just seemed to end with a shrug from the writer to the reader. The title story, Light Lifting, especially suffered from this idea. What happened at the end? Did I miss something? That same thought can be applied to the plots of some of these stories are as well. Sick people are depressing? Autistic kids are different?
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