- Paperback: 224 pages
- Publisher: Biblioasis; 1 edition (April 21 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1897231946
- ISBN-13: 978-1897231944
- Product Dimensions: 13.3 x 1.4 x 21 cm
- Shipping Weight: 431 g
- Average Customer Review: 13 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #67,588 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Light Lifting Paperback – Apr 21 2011
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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.
"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 "Outstanding...The final lines of MacLeod's stories tend to be ambiguous and sinister...Most strikingly, as we leave a man by the hospital cot of his desperately sick baby, the lights on the machine flash "Like a discotheque, maybe, or the reflection of ancient fire in a cave". Without a formal resolution, such stories are free to create ripples in the mind of the reader." -- Suzi Feay Independent "Brilliant debut collection, Light Lifting, is engrossing, thrilling and ultimately satisfying: each story has the weight of a novel... It is the beautiful writing that really carries this book. The choice of words is spare, simple and unaffected, and the rhythm is perfect: despite the sadness that overlays many pieces, they flow with the comforting lull of a bedtime story." The Economist "Rarely does fiction inhabit the body - the moving, athletic body - as fully as in Alexander MacLeod's debut story collection... Sensitive and subtle, MacLeod is a writer through whose deliberately partial and quotidian pieces shimmers life's unspoken complexity." -- Giller Prize Jury Citation "[MacLeod's] capacity to encapsulate entire lives in the span of a few pages rivals Alice Munro. This is one of the finest collections of short fiction to appear ... in a long, long time." Quill & Quire (Best Books of the Year citation) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.See all Product description
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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. My favorite of the stories, "Adult Beginners I," about a group of off-duty lifeguards diving off a high building into the Detroit River, had me with my heart in my mouth, expecting one ending and then another and another, being surprised each time but also rewarded by further insight into the life of the young female protagonist.
None of the stories, though, is entirely happy. Most flirt with tragedy, violence, or despair. But none of them is entirely sad either. MacLeod has a fine ability to balance sorrow with compassion, and disaster with self-discovery. Even those stories that appear to end badly reward the reader with a sense of uplift and understanding. This is unpretentious writing about unpretentious people, but writing nonetheless of a high order.
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. We meet her when she stands high above the ground on a ledge, reluctant to follow the urging by her gang of friends to jump - as a dare - from a hotel's roof straight down into the Detroit river. It is a dark night and only a few lights can guide the direction of her fall into the water... a water that seems anything but inviting. Her deep-seated fear has a complex history that is told in flashbacks, going back to her first exposure, as a child, to the Atlantic Ocean and a wave that threatened her. MacLeod compellingly evokes Stace's memory: "The wall of water came into her vision, looming over her mother's shoulder like an old-style gangster thug sifting out of the crowd in a grey trench coat with a brim of his fedora pulled low down. He was so thick and so wide, he blocked out the sky. He shoved her mother forward headfirst into the sand before grabbing the girl and carrying her off in the opposite direction."
For me, Stace's challenge is one of the most affecting and richly developed stories in the collection. 'The Loop' is another remarkable story. The teenager Allan rides his bicycle to deliver medications and other drugstore supplies for old-fashioned pharmacist, Mr Musgrave. Over a period of three years, he gets to know a diverse group of customers - from nice, half-blind old Mrs McKay, to eighty-nine year old Mrs. Hume, to huge, spooky (youngish) Barney. His description of his interaction with his customers is meticulous and very perceptive. He knows that his customers' requests go beyond what a teenager should be asked and he learns more about their mental or other health conditions than he wants to be dealing with. He nevertheless experiences empathy, and in some cases affection, for his 'clients'. And one day, he surprises himself by his ability for compassion despite his reserve and even disgust. "The Loop" and 'Adult Beginner I' turned into my favourites in this collection. Their central characters illustrate a gentler touch and stand in contrast to the somewhat raw and dark emotions and physical aggressions that lie beneath many of the other stories. Overall, I find myself torn between my attraction to the author's excellent and precise writing and my limited curiosity as regards most of the topics he expands on and the characters who inhabit them. Other readers may well find others or all of the stories captivating.
Canadian author Alexander MacLeod was a 2010 Giller Prize finalist with this collection that also has been named "Book of the Year" by other institutions in Canada. He is the son of award winning Canadian writer Alistair MacLeod, who won the International Foreign Fiction Prize (IMPAC) in 1999 for his novel "No Great Mischief". [Friederike Knabe]
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