And so I come to Alexander MacLeod’s debut short story collection, Light Lifting (Jonathan Cape), which is published in the UK tomorrow (2nd February). I know I’m currently working my way through a load of short story collections as it is, but I’m so excited about reading this one that I’m leapfrogging it to the very top of my reading pile (no offence to the others), along with Jon McGregor’s new short story collection which is also published tomorrow. Before I dive into Light Lifting though, I wanted to lay down a few forethoughts on it.
First off, why am I so excited about reading this particular collection from debut author, Macleod? Well, mainly because I’ve heard so many good things about it. Light Lifting may be new to the UK, but in Canada where where this author hails from, Light Lifting has been on bookshop shelves since September 2010 (HERE’S a video from the launch), and since then it has created quite a stir around literary circles. Not only was Light Lifting shortlisted for the 2010 Scotiabank Giller Prize the day after its publication, but last year it was also shortlisted for the prestigious Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. The collection also took the Margaret and John Savage First Book Award at last year’s Atlantic Book Awards, while also standing a finalist in the Commonwealth Writers Prize. Even ignoring all of the glowing literary reviews – and of these there are many – this collection has built up a lot of prestige over the past year, and I don’t think there are too many short story fans out there who wouldn’t be excited (or at the very least intrigued), to read this one.
Let’s go look at the cover blurb:
Light Lifting, Alexander Macleod’s long-awaited first collection of short fiction, offers us a suite of darkly urban and unflinching elegies. These are elemental stories of work and its bonds, of tragedy and tragedy barely averted, but also of beauty, love and fragile understanding.
That’s the blurb – short and sweet but suitably intriguing I think. The mention of the stories being ‘elemental’ and themed around ‘tragedy’ and ‘work and its bonds’ is particularly interesting, especially when juxtaposed against ‘beauty’ and ‘love’, because it sounds as though these may well be the kinds of story that one can’t quite get out of the head once finished. I’m a huge fan of ‘stick in the head’ tales, and I remember reading somewhere (I can’t remember where exactly – probably because my brain is full of ‘stick in the head’ tales ) that all of the stories in this collection are wholly memorable, and in a truthful, biting, gritty kind of way. And that’s absolutely my cup of tea.
And if that wasn’t encouragement enough for me, the great Irish novelist Colm Tóibín declares that the stories in this collection ‘offer a real pleasure which comes from the sense of life and emotional honesty in them’ which really piques interest, especially when factoring in Anne Enright’s comment that Alexander MacLeod illuminates every page of this collection, with his ‘belief in people and the power of story’. Marketing blurb I know, but marketing blurb that comes from two literary giants.
What is perhaps espcially interesting about Light Lifting however, is that it’s a culmination of over 15 years of work. This is not to say that it has taken MacLeod fifteen years to write the collection from start to finish, rather the stories in it span 15 years of writing. I think it’s safe to suggest therefore, that there’s nothing unconsidered or last minute about the seven stories included in this collection, and that Macleod has had plenty of time to put a spit and polish on every one of them.
So what of Alexander MacLeod himself? Well, for starters he comes from good literary stock. His father is the noted short story writer and novelist, Alistair MacLeod, who amongst other things won the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award in 2001 for his 1999 novel, No Great Mischief.
Alexander himself was born in Inverness, Cape Breton and raised in Windsor, Ontario. He holds degrees from University of Windsor, the University of Notre Dame, and McGill. He is married with three young children and is currently an associate professor of English at St. Mary’s University, Halifax, Nova Scotia. This is clearly a man who eat, sleeps and drinks literature, and he has done so for a long time.
Additionally, MacLeod used to be a serious distance runner and I know one of his stories – the first, Miracle Mile which I’ve had a sneak read of already (Wow, but more on that later) – is about the life of the competitive distance runner. Macleod admits that there are elements of himself in all of his stories, so I’m expecting this collection to be as intriguing in an autobiographical sense as it is in a fictional. Given the time span during which the stories have been created I’m looking forward to seeking out the signs of Macleod blossoming, both as a person and as a writer.
So Light Lifting really does look to have the makings of one extraordinary short story collection (the cover is basic and unassuming too which is always a promising thing i.e. it doesn’t need bells and whistles to sell it), hence my thrill at the thought of reading it. The fact that the collection has gained so much recognition before coming to the UK is exciting enough, but adding in all of the other things – MacLeod’s ancestry, his love for literature, the timespan covering the creation of these stories, the comments from prominent authors etc. – I don’t think I’ve been as eager to dive into a short story collection for a long time (I lie because I get excited over most short story collections, but I’m doing so for dramatic effect ).
So, how am I going to proceed with my reading of Light Lifting? Well, the same way as I always do with short story collections/anthologies i.e. read and review each individual story before returning with a final afterthoughts post for the collection as a whole. I’m noted for being rather leisurely when it comes to the speed in which I read short story collections, but this is something I really want and need to improve on. So rather than posting my final afterthoughts on this collection in a few weeks time, I hope to return in a few days to let you know how I got on. Meantime, you track my progress through this collection, below. Oh and and if you want to know little more about Alexander MacLeod, then scroll past the contents list for Light Lifting, where there’s a few links that will hopefully enlighten you.
:: Contents of Light Lifting ::
(links lead to individual reviews of each story, when posted)
- Miracle Mile
- Wonder About Parents
- Light Lifting
- Adult Beginner I
- The Loop
- Good Kids
- The Number Three
Jonathan Cape | 02 February 2012 | £15.99 | HARDBACK | 211 PP | ISBN: 9780224093941
Find out more about Alexander MacLeod:
- A Words With Writers interview with Alexander Macleod
- An interview with Atlantic Books Today
- A short but intimate clip of Alexander MacLeod, from the Giller Prize
A note about forethoughts
‘Forethoughts’ offer an insight into what my initial thoughts and impressions of a book are before I begin reading it. Informal, and largely written as a stream-of-consciousness exercise in a single sitting, my ‘forethoughts’ capture an important stage of the reading experience for me – the anticipatory period before the book is first opened, when my excitement is piqued for the reading experience which lies ahead.
Blissfully ignorant my ‘forethoughts’ may well be, but when combined with my eventual ‘afterthoughts’, the result is a unique and comprehensive record of a very personal literary ‘journey’ through a particular book; a literary journey which will hopefully be of some value to other readers.