Friday, April 22, 2011

Light Lifting

Light Lifting / Alexander MacLeod
Toronto: Biblioasis, c2010.
224 p.

I don't know what more I can possibly say about this book of short stories. It's been a unanimous praise-fest everywhere I have heard any talk of it. So I can only add my agreement to that.

This first collection by the son of novelist Alastair MacLeod is strong and assured, and truly gripping. There are a variety of stories in the collection, but each is complete in itself and includes great characters. I enjoyed the fact that each story did not have the same narrator -- not actually the same person, but the same kind of person, which I've found tiring at times in some short story collections. But in this there are the heart of the stories characters like young families, teens, athletes, blue-collar workers, and so on: a wider view of humanity which made the stories feel open rather than enclosed within a myopic perspective.
That said, I did have some favourites.

I really liked the title story, Light Lifting, in its portrayal of Robbie, a summer student working construction with the guys who do this all the time. The student is a nice kid and a hard worker and doesn't seem to mind the cumulative weight of the light lifting he does, ferrying bricks. He's stuck it out longer than any other student though, so they are fond of him. The narrator, watching Robbie, says at one point:
What did a kid like that do when he went home? You could spend all this time working with a guy and still be totally different inside. I thought about how we were all stuck, all of us put in our places. I thought about how your life could be like a brick and how hard it was to move it once you got settled into the same place for a couple years.
I also found the final story, The Number Three, extremely powerful, and very moving. I really dislike sentimentality in fiction, or authors using the easy excuse of tragedy to give their story its meaning. MacLeod avoids any of that in this story, despite its being a deep tragedy; the main character is a man who in a moment of distraction caused a car accident that killed his wife and teenage son. He is swimming through the miasma of grief and guilt, and as the one year anniversary of the accident arrives he takes action that is heart-breaking and yet true to the feel of the story. The situation isn't resolved, but the seed of a hope of resolution is sown. Beautiful writing.

This was certainly worthy of its Giller nomination this year, and provided me with some rewarding hours of reading.

Other voices:

Kerry at Pickle Me This talks about reading it with her book club: We loved this book. We felt a bit sorry for every other book we’ve read lately, which seemed unfairly compared to this one.

KevinfromCanada says: he is a talent not just to be appreciated with this collection, but to be watched in the future.

Deanna at Tragic Right Hip says: Light Lifting needs to be shared, discussed, and celebrated -- it's that good.

Mark at Free Range Reading says: the craftsmanship behind each piece is absolutely off the charts, and any close reading will reveal the time and patience it must have taken MacLeod to put these stories together.


  1. Great review! I am just re-reading.
    I love how AM can tell a story around a story. You just get sucked in and somehow at the end you have all these roads that have led to the perfect ending...When I am done the second read-through, I may be able to comment more coherently.
    So glad I bought it. I will be returning to it often.

    Kim (ferniebound)

  2. Kim - I really did feel that he was a veteran at this game...wonderful stories and easy to read one by one...


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