Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Oran Feature on Light Lifting

Over at the Inverness Oran, John Gillies has written an interesting profile of Alexander MacLeod and Light Lifting.

They say write about what you know, and anyone who knows Alexander MacLeod knows he knows something about running.
Consequently, it’s not surprising that Alexander gets a firm grip on his readers in the opening pages of his story, Miracle Mile, from his long anticipated new short story collection, Light Lifting.
Born in Inverness, Cape Breton and raised in Windsor, Ontario, Alexander MacLeod’s award-winning work has appeared in numerous North American journals – including a selection for the Journey Prize Anthology.
This week the Saint Mary’s University English professor (who is currently on sabbatical to promote his new book) got a welcomed boost when the Scotiabank/Giller prize announced Light Lifting on its 2010 longlist.
The seven stories in this collection have been called “darkly urban and unflinching elegies for a city and community on the brink.” While suspense and the potential for violence are often present in his stories, MacLeod told The Oran last week that when it does appear it represents “a fragility” present in our everyday lives.
In Miracle Mile, two distance runners, one coming into his own, the other coming to the painful realization that he’s already past his prime, wrestle with the idea of what it means to win and lose. Scenes of those runners in their youthful days racing a cargo train through a rat-infested tunnel underneath the Detroit River are hard to forget. The story is not only a meditation on running and civility but seems to ask why we care enough to do the things we do.
“I was interested in exploring the private and public nature of running which sort of parallels the process of writing. The two are more similar than many people might imagine. I was also interested in why people give themselves over to anything. The only thing that can be meaningful is something we care about. Those guys have a very pure relationship and friendship. They really care about running when nobody else does,” said MacLeod.
In Adult Beginner I, a young swimmer who overcomes her fear of water leaps from the roof of over a hotel building into dangers of the unknown waters below.
In Good Kids, an intelligent but unpopular kid from poor and transient family demonstrates a toughness that his older friends cannot even imagine. In Reggie Laroque, MacLeod creates a character who reminds us all so much of those young people, often forgotten, who nevertheless formed such an important part of our childhood.
MacLeod offers an unsentimental and unflinching look at contemporary urban life with an unmistakable honestly that should resonate with his growing number of readers.
While it’s not surprising the Windsor/Detroit area figures prominently in this work, it might be a surprise to some readers that no “Cape Breton” stories are included.
“I made a conscious decision a couple of years ago to leave my Cape Breton stories out of this collection. I have always lived between those two worlds, Cape Breton and Windsor, and I love both places, and they’re both very important to me, but the two kinds of stories didn’t blend very well, and I realized that the whole book would cohere a little better if I made that choice,” he says.
There’s often an element of danger present in many of the stories. There are important choices to make and consequences for those choices.
“We are what we do,” he says.
“I don’t think there’s anything more boring and disappointing than being two paragraphs into a story and being able to guess exactly, exactly, what’s going to happen in the end. I tried to avoid that,” he added.
Regarding influences, MacLeod says his parents “are probably the most influential people in my life” with his father the “biggest, most important literary influence I’ll ever have,” though never in an “overbearing or intrusive way.”
“I try to learn lessons from (many writers) Jarman, Moore, Munro – and from Joyce and Carver and O’Connor and all the other amazing people who have been able to catch a story once in awhile and really make it work.”
The presence of the Windsor/Detroit area also provided MacLeod an opportunity to explore not only a world he’s familiar with but a canvas to create material with from the industrial/rural experience that has always been such a strong presence in his life.
“In Essex County you have the most productive farmlands in Canada just twenty minutes from the most industrialized centre of the country. I find that pretty fascinating. Growing up in both Windsor and Cape Breton made me aware that sometimes what matters so much in one place often doesn’t even register in the other,” he said.
It’s rather fitting that MacLeod will be reading this weekend in both Windsor, Ontario (Friday) and Inverness at the Arts Centre at 2:00 p.m. on Sunday afternoon. His rural and urban worlds collide again.
“It’s kind of weird but it should be a lot of fun and I’m glad that my family will be able to take part in many of the reading events,” said MacLeod.
Like his father Alistair before him, Alexander MacLeod writes compelling stories that stay with you and that have an impact on you as a reader. They are stories that get into your blood; stories you’ll remember. They are stories that matter.

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