Monday, March 05, 2012

The guardian Reviews Light Lifting

A rave review of Alexander MacLeod's Light Lifting appeared in The Guardian this weekend.  chris Powers writes, in part:

Canadian author Alexander MacLeod's debut collection opens with a story titled"Miracle Mile", a nod to the 1954 Vancouver meeting between Roger Bannister and John Landy, when for the first time two competitors in the same race managed to run a mile in under four minutes. The race was unprecedented, not merely in athletics, but in popular culture as well: it was the first international sporting event to be broadcast live across North America. Monuments were commissioned and headlines were made, most of which featured phrases such as "the eyes of the world" and "a date with destiny". MacLeod's story isn't about those two runners, but about a couple of contemporary professional sportsmen who've been training with and competing against each other since grade school, and who run four-minute miles every day. That is, when they're not flopped out in motel rooms drifting along with daytime TV, or clinic-hopping for steroid shots, or packed into a courtesy bus with other oddly shaped athletes ("Each of us had one of those strange bodies designed to do only one thing"). Their achievements and sacrifices are now commonplace. The world may not be watching at all.

The question implicit here – how or why even a little thing might matter, and to whom – runs through every story in this book like ore through rock. (For runners, "the smallest numbers meant more than the bigger ones" and quirky pre-race rituals are critical; for bricklayers, "it's the light lifting that does the damage", wrecking knees and ageing workers prematurely.) So too does an intense interest in the body, its exploits and its depredations. When MacLeod's characters aren't out-running freight trains, or night-swimming in the Detroit river, they're kids sporting sunburns that seep through clothing "like grease coming through waxed paper", or autoworkers "so twisted up with tendonitis they couldn't tie their own shoes", or – perhaps most memorably – a father wrestling with his sick child's nappy in a service station ("Liquid shit blasts out of her diaper, runs all the way up her back to the neck … Lines of men waiting for the urinals, watching me").
This last incident is from "Wonder of Parents", both the most abstract and accomplished piece here, where MacLeod allows his interest in minutiae to dictate the form of the story. A fragmentary, non-chronological account of regular parenting tasks (combing for nits, collecting Happy Meals at the drive-thru, queuing for flu shots) co-exists alongside the narrator's nightly reading of Hans Zinsser's Rats, Lice and History (itself a tribute to Laurence Sterne, that great theorist of contingent association), and overtly stakes a claim for the abiding influence of small, concrete matters over grand narratives and premeditated outcomes. What random assortment of circumstances (a girl in a Clash T-shirt, a college fumble) leads people to embark on a lifetime of exhaustive – and exhausting – commitment? MacLeod's point here is that there are no epiphanies as such, merely a series of events that swiftly becomes everyday discipline, and significance – if it exists at all – is always imposed retroactively. "Who are we to these people?" the tired parent asks himself of his children. "Genetics. A story they make up about themselves."

For the rest of the review, please go here.  

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