Saturday, September 25, 2010

A Black Rose of Regret....

blooms in Alex MacLeod's Light Lifting. Or so says the Globe & Mail.

Saints, of course, have a tough time staying fresh. They gather scholarly dust and, too easily, an ossified adulation that can do disservice both to the subtleties of their gifts and to the acolytes (or progeny) who write in their footsteps. I’m happy to say that Alexander MacLeod’s debut fiction collection, just long-listed for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, fully dodges the behemoth of homage and expectation. This writer swims entirely in his own waters.

Miracle Mile opens in a generic hotel room with best buds Mikey and Burner flat out on their beds watching the sports news. They’re career runners on yet another cross-country track tour, their world narrowed daily to the prep and the race. TV surfing is one way of clearing their minds. “This was the day after Mike Tyson bit off Evander Holyfield’s ear.” As a video loop of the carnage plays over and over, Mikey acknowledges, almost celebrates, the bestial sensuality: “Mike moving in for the kill, the way his cheek brushes up almost intimately against Evander’s face just before he breaks all the way through and gives in to his rawest impulse ... and his teeth come grinding down.”

A chummy-rivalrous erotic current underlays the story, from Burner’s open speculations on his hotel bed about wearing underwear, or not, that day, to the light touch of a hand on a back just before a race. MacLeod’s detours into scarier specifics of the track-addict demimonde are fascinating, plunging us into minds and bodies tortured in months of abuse to shave off crucial 10ths of a second. The story veils its deeper structure, building toward bursts of understanding. These guys love each other. They will never say so. And, like Tyson, they fight their rawest impulses and sometimes don’t win.

Wonder About Parents pivots on the prospects of a babe in arms whose fever is judged a little too casually by her parents as they undertake a gruelling Montreal-to-Windsor highway trip on Christmas Eve. The more diversionary pivot is an episodic historical biology (both personal and global) of head lice, with surprise cameos from Aristotle, Henry IV and Vladimir Lenin, among others. Weighty with research, the tale nonetheless rattles along on arresting factoids and sharp set pieces, including a comically horrific diaper change in a crowded rest-stop men’s room (“Got your hands full there, buddy”). Brisk and loose, it cuts the predictable sick-child suspense with a sustained ironic tone and an incisive take on the learning curve of parenting.

For the full review, please go here.

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