Short Story Review: ‘Wonder About Parents’ by Alexander MacLeod

Story Title: Wonder About Parents
Collection/Anthology?: Light Lifting (Jonathan Cape)
Date Read: 3rd February 2012
Briefly: A father is prompted to reflect on past times of helplessness, when his family are affected by a lice infestation.
Afterthoughts: Another remarkable tale from MacLeod marked as much for its affecting power as for the author’s prowess in storytelling.

‘Wonder About Parents’ moves back and forwards through time, as a father looks back on moments of inability and helplessness. The story mainly switches between the present day and the dawning weeks of fatherhood, when a serious illness threatens the life of his first born. Interspersed in amongst the time shifts are facts about lice, taken mainly from a 1934 book by American bacteriologist Hans Zinsser, called Rats, Lice and History. It’s all rather unpleasant, and it makes one shift in one’s seat, but it all adds to the effect of uncomfortableness as a whole, because that is the very nature of this powerful and affecting story.

The entire story is presented using short and punchy sentences, which gives it a real sense of pace. This in turn not only the raises the anxiety level, but the sense of urgency too, making it feel as though events are moving too fast to be controlled. Every decent parent wants to feel as though they are always in control when it comes to caring for and protecting their child, but the main character in this story comes across as barely being able to.

‘Wonder About Parents’ is all hugely powerful, and so personal and intimate that one is left wondering (but hoping that it isn’t the case) whether MacLeod has gone through similarly trying times during his own fatherhood. OK, so almost every parent goes through the lice thing I know, but not so many have to deal with the pain and anguish of a gravely ill newborn. Regardless, MacLeod paints an impression of the pain, anguish and sense of helplessness, perfectly.

Rating: ★★★★☆

This story was read as part of a review of the Alexander MacLeod short story collection, Light Lifting. If you want to find out more about this collection then I invite you to pop along to my forethoughts post for this title. I also encourage you to head on over to the publisher page for the book.

About Rob

Rob, a self-confessed bibliophile, is without any hope of rehabilitation. He gets unnaturally excited over anything book-shaped, and if book sniffing were a crime then he would have been locked up years ago (which wouldn't bother him in the slightest provided his cell was lined with books).