Light Lifting by Alexander MacLeod

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Light Lifting by Alexander MacLeod

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Category: Short Stories
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Robin Leggett
Reviewed by Robin Leggett
Summary: A superbly consistent collection of short stories from a natural story-teller - hard to believe that this is the author's first book.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 224 Date: February 2012
Publisher: Jonathan Cape
ISBN: 9780224093941

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Short stories may not be everyone's cup of tea. Sometimes, particularly with first time authors, there is an annoying tendency to be overly experimental. Not so with Alexander MacLeod's stunningly assured debut. True he has genetic 'form' in that he is the son of novelist and short story writer Alistair MacLeod, but even so, the quality of this collection, is remarkable. The collection of seven stories is not overly themed, although certain issues and concerns do reappear, but what binds the stories together is a very human approach to adversity.

The collection kicks off with Miracle Mile, a story of a young athlete prior to what he has determined will be his last race. His obsessional devotion to athletics is the first of a number of stories that feature characters that are in some way obsessed, either in the form of an activity such as here, or later in terms of phobias about water, driving or in one case a character who is a recovering alcoholic. The narrator's passion and devotion to the subject is completely convincing and the concept of a talented runner brings to mind a suitable metaphor for the whole book. The author appears to tell each story with the same apparent effortlessness that an athlete shows, but all the time you are aware that there is a kick just waiting to happen. He is a natural story-teller.

MacLeod is particularly adept at seeming to slow down the action and to investigate the issues leading up to a significant event. His stories don't get neatly tied up and often end just before what the story is leading up to. At first this can be a little disconcerting, but the effect I found was that this allows the stories to continue in the reader's mind long after you've finished the story.

Such is the consistency of the quality here that it's hard to pick out favourites, but if pushed, apart from the aforementioned Miracle Mile, the two real stand out stories concern the protagonists facing phobias. In Adult Beginner 1, Stace overcomes her childhood fear of water following a nasty experience in the sea, to learn to swim. But admirable though this achievement is, it leads to a shocking outcome to a particularly stupid sounding act of youthful adventure.

If Stace is to a large extent the victim of her own peer-pressure induced stupidity, the protagonist in the final story, The Number Three is perhaps slightly less culpable and the story is the most moving of the lot. Having spent years working in the car industry on the production line, a tragic car accident means that he no longer is able to travel in a car and so his touching need to return to the site of the accident some 30 miles from his house on the anniversary proves something of a challenge. True, he is not wholly blameless - he was the driver after all - but it is impossible not to feel your heart go out to him in his quest.

The least straightforward piece is the second offering Wonder About Parents that is more experimentally written concerning an outbreak of head lice but while it is heavier on style than most of the collection, it is still entertaining and perhaps one of the most overtly humorous. The story from which the book derives its title Light Lifting concerns a young student working a summer job on a small time construction gang. It's one of the shorter stories and wasn't one of the most enthralling, making it perhaps an odd choice for the collection as a whole.

The Loop also features a young kid working part time, this time a younger boy working as a delivery boy for a pharmacist until he comes face to face with a reality that he shouldn't have to face at that age, while Good Kids recalls a childhood friendship of sorts with a particularly strange neighbourhood kid.

For me, a good short story always leaves the reader wanting more. On this evidence, I certainly want more Alexander MacLeod.

Our thanks go to the kind people at Jonathan Cape for sending us a copy of this great collection.

For more excellent short story collections, try The Empty Family by Colm Toibin of What Becomes by A L Kennedy.

Buy Light Lifting by Alexander MacLeod at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Light Lifting by Alexander MacLeod at

Buy Light Lifting by Alexander MacLeod at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Light Lifting by Alexander MacLeod at


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