What Becomes by A L Kennedy

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What Becomes by A L Kennedy

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Category: Short Stories
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A strong selection of contemporary short stories, with the absurd and the banal of the everyday seen through strong character, and some superbly engaging scenarios.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 224 Date: August 2010
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 978-0099494065

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You're three stories into this collection and two people have cut their hands open preparing food - a man with love drooping away from his marriage, making soup, and another, a greengrocer, preparing stock and thinking about his own relationship. But there is no pattern to that. Four stories in and there have been two bursts of non-sequitur comedy. Why your fruit might be ruined by stray fingers, and the thoughts of a woman in a flotation tank, remembering Doctor Who, locked parental doors - and the urban myths of gerbils. But there's still no pattern - and that's the point of these combined stories. Life and all of its emotions does not live to rule.

You might doubt me with story five - she thinks of them as a sexual couple, he thinks of the school for blind people he knows, for little reason - but they're en route to the most stilted, unusual Japanese meal - chosen randomly, of course. This is a world of wrong numbers, and dogs going missing - and you never do see a lamp-post with good news of families being reunited with their pets.

'As God Made Us' shows off Kennedy's skills to the fore - she's perfectly adept at getting internally deep into female and male characters - and allowing the men to swear like the coarsest examples. But it also shows she might not be a hundred per cent concerned with plot. There are strong characters all round, and depths beyond the snapshots of life they are seen living. You see that in the last tale too - the story of a man trying to get rid of a spare theatre seat gels into something else.

There are occasional hiccups with this - the dressing given to a basic story of a woman at the dentist may prove the pudding is at times a little over-egged, that things are made too rich. This is too arch, that too black, and the other is too seriously painful, for some.

But factor in pieces like 'Sympathy', a bravura demolition of the need for authorial presence, which gives us the most open short story imaginable through dialogue alone, and the thumbs come out in the up position for this collection. There were times I didn't get as much as intended from the works, but the last three stories here are all very fine, and every page does deserve to be explored, for the strength of the carefully considered wording, the mundane extemporised upon so deeply, and the welcome sense of the peculiar Ms Kennedy does so well.

She of course won the Costa Book Award for Day, and that fact is emblazoned on this in large print. For many the author's name is more than enough to declare this well worth reading.

I must thank Vintage Books' kind people for my review copy.

The disquiet of outsiders features strongly in Travelling Light by Tove Jansson, which is a recently enjoyed collection of shorts at Bookbag Towers.

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Buy What Becomes by A L Kennedy at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy What Becomes by A L Kennedy at Amazon.com.


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