After the four Giller Prize longlisters I read (The Imperfectionists, Lemon, Player One, and The Debba) each failed to make the cut to the next round, I had to start the shortlist from scratch. I decided to start with one that I have been looking forward to the most, Alexander MacLeod’s debut collection of short stories, Light Lifting (2010). Now, debut short story collections are tricky things – sometimes they are overedited and come off a bit dead, but other times they are simply brilliant – so I don’t always look forward to reading them. Also, I had never heard of Alexander MacLeod. So, why was I looking forward to this one? Because Alexander MacLeod is the son of Alistair MacLeod, surely one of the best short story writers there is; I’ve been making my way through his complete collection, Island. I hope to review it here soon. But first, the next generation — talent is not always passed on.
I’m happy to say that Light Lifting proved to be the pleasure I was hoping for. Each of its seven stories are quite different in content and style, though each ushers a character to some extreme situation (more often than not one that might not look extreme to the rest of us; maybe just some quiet moment) and each bears the marks of the author with spatters of details in sentence fragments that somehow do not interrupt the flow of the narrative.
Most of these stories take place in or around Windsor in Ontario, Canada, just across the river from Detroit. Refreshingly, these stories all focus on what I’d call the working class, though some of them focus on children of the working class. I agree with fellow Shadow Giller Jury member Alison Gzowski: this is a refreshing debut short story collection. It seems that so many short story writers today write deeply intellectual-seeming stories from some theoretical perspective gleaned in grad school and cultivated in an MA program. There are some great ones out there that follow just this mold, but there are many many terrible ones. At any rate, they grow tiresome. In Light Lifting we see an author who writes compassionately about people we all know, struggling in a region that has been decaying for half a century.
Here is a link to the review that includes both Alison and my thoughts on this site.
2010 GOVERNOR-GENERAL’S LITERARY AWARD, FICTION SHORTLIST
On another front, the 2010 shortlist for the Governor-General’s Literary Award for fiction was released today. Four of the five have been reviewed here (click on the title) and I will get to the fifth soon:
Waiting for Joe, by Sandra Birdsell
I would say this list reflects the normal G-G/Giller split. All of the G-G finalists except for Room are what I would call “regional” novels that focus on different areas of the country (all pretty rural as well). Only one, Annabel, is on the Giller shortlist — again, G-G juries often seem to look at the Giller shortlist and then head in a different direction. I think history shows that they tend to want to give recognition to authors and books which they feel have been overlooked in the general course of things. I have always found their list interesting, despite some of its inherent limitations.