LIGHT LIFTING by Alexander MacLeod

Book Quote:

“Robbie’s eyes flicked between the [graph] paper and the patio we were building. I could see that he was really studying this stuff. He’d ask me a question and I’d answer and we went back and forth like that. It was great. Before that, I never taught anybody anything.”

Book Review:

Review by Friederike Knabe  (MAY 29, 2011)

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, most 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.”

Five of the seven stories are written in first person voices, drawing the reader intimately into each of the narrators’ point of view of specific 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 always raced together, sometimes at night through a cross-border train tunnel beneath the Detroit river, risking their lives in the process. 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 at length the many material details that underpin any physical activity that his protagonists are engaged in: be it running, swimming, holing bricks, or maneuvering a bicycle on the icy roads in winter.

Most of the central characters are young men, very few women hold an important place in the stories. One exception is the story of Stace, the central character in “Adult Beginner I.” We meet her when she stands at a roof’s ledge, fearful and reluctant to follow the urging of her gang of friends who have been jumping – at night – from the roof of a hotel straight down into the Detroit river below. The night is dark and only a few lights can guide the direction of her fall into the water… a water that is anything but inviting. Her deep-seated fear has a complex history that is told in flashbacks, going back to her youth and her first exposure to the Atlantic Ocean. MacLeod’s compelling ability to describe vividly both the inner struggles and the outer condition that a character finds him- or herself in, comes to the fore as he evokes the ocean wave that Stace was suddenly forced to confront. “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, this one of the most affecting and richly developed stories in the collection. ‘The Loop” is another favourite of mine. Teenager Allan and his bicycle have been delivering every day for three years medications and other drugstore supplies for old-fashioned pharmacist, Mr. Musgrave. Allan’s description of the wide range of regular customers he meets – from the nice, half-blind old Mrs. McKay, to eighty-nine year old Mrs. Hume, to huge, spooky Barney is meticulous and his relationship to them all is touching and very perceptive. He is fully aware that his customers’ conditions are confronting him with aspects of human life that should be beyond a young teenager’s knowledge or understanding; he nevertheless experiences empathy, and in some cases affection, for his “clients.” And one day, he surprises himself when compassion overrules reserve and even disgust. “The Loop” is one of the gentler stories and with “Adult Beginner I” my favourite in this collection. They both stand out in contract to the somewhat raw and dark emotions and physical aggression that lie beneath many of the stories told. I find myself torn between my attraction to the author’s brilliant writing and my lesser curiosity of most of the topics he expands on and the characters who represent them. Other readers may well find all of the stories captivating and engaging.

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.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-0from 1 readers
PUBLISHER: Biblioasis; Reprint edition (April 5, 2011)
REVIEWER: Friederike Knabe
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Publisher page on Alexander MacLeod
EXTRAS: Reading Guide and Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Read our review of:

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May 29, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags:  · Posted in: Canada, Short Stories

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