The Shadow Giller Jury is pleased to announce its selection for the 2010 Shadow Giller Prize:
Light Lifting, by Alexander MacLeod
While the choice did take some deliberation, it was unanimous. MacLeod’s debut collection of seven stories is a significant achievement that deserves to be recognized — and all three jurors are looking forward to his next book, be it another story collection or (we hope) a novel.
(EDIT: Well, the Real Jury obviously did not agree with us and awarded the prize to Johanna Skibsrud for The Sentimentalists. All three Shadow Jurors liked that novel — but not as much as our top two choices. If you can find a copy, it is a very good book.)My summary thoughts on Light Lifting: Each of MacLeod’s stories stands on its own (and some are better than others, but that is inevitable), but taken together they end up in a novel-like portrayal of an assortment of “ordinary” lives in an industrial, working class city — which is very much what Windsor (the Ontario city where all seven are set) is. The central characters are very different — a world-class sprinter who knows it is time to retire, an adult who remembers his first job as a drug store delivery boy, a water-fearing girl who is now an excellent swimmer (maybe too excellent), a widower who cannot overcome (and hence must annually commemorate) his grief — so each ends up presenting a unique view that reflects life in the community where they live. In both structure and writing, all seven stories are exquisitely crafted. (My original review is here.)
Trevor’s summary thoughts: I didn’t like each story in Light Lifting, though it feels like it, and I am very pleased that it is our winner. The stories I did like I loved. “Miracle Mile,” “Adult Beginning I,” “The Loop,” “Good Kids,” and “The Number Three”: each, to me, is stronger than anything else on the Giller shortlist, and each has stuck with me since I read them over a month ago. MacLeod uses spare and simple short sentences to construct fully textured scenes of desperation full of emotional nuance. And if I enjoyed how Kathleen Winter (Annabel) made me feel toward her characters, I loved the emotions MacLeod made me feel. My favorite story is probably (but this could shift) the opening story, “Miracle Mile.” I felt the various emotions of two runners throughout the story, from the tense tedium in the hotel to the break-down at the end. Another plus, in these short stories MacLeod focused on groups of people and types of professions that rarely take up space in fiction any more. His writing carried the loneliness and drawn-out desperation so well. (Trevor’s original review — much more extensive than mine — can be found here.)
Alison’s thoughts: This is a debut collection of stories that doesn’t read like one. MacLeod deftly manages to immerse the reader into each story’s world. I like the range here, so many debut collections feel autobiographical in that they cover the same concerns and themes. Light Lifting doesn’t do that. A couple of his stories are stunning. I had never read his work before and I look forward to more.
I mentioned that the Shadow Jury did have some debate and, unlike the Real Jury which is restricted to picking a single winner, we would like to recognize our unanimous second choice (and all three of us would have been happy to proclaim it the winner): Annabel, by Kathleen Winter.KfC’s summary thoughts: This novel, set in Labrador and Newfoundland, is a study in discovering identity. At its most obvious level, that challenge is faced by the title character, Annabel/Wayne, who was born with both female and male genitalia. That circumstance poses equally difficult identity challenges for his parents and Thomasina, their close friend who also remains close to Wayne/Annabel throughout the book. Underlying all of this, however, is another significant “identity” challenge — the struggle between wilderness Labrador, urban St. John’s and the global world beyond. The result is a very intriguing, highly successful novel. (My original review — and a guest post from author Winter describing some of her challenges in writing the book — is here).
Trevor’s summary thoughts: I think that in terms of scope Annabel was the most ambitious title this year. Set in the extreme north (makes this cold New York day just a bit colder to think about it), Annabel takes on a difficult theme and ties that theme into other observations about modern life. The characters — Wayne, Wally, Thomasina, Treadway, and Jacinta — even if I felt they were at times merely props for the story, were heartbreaking, and I cared for each one. (Trevor’s full review can be found here.)
Alison’s comment: For some reason I came to this with a bit of reluctance and was immediately drawn in by the way Winter evoked landscape and character (in fact, you could say the landscape here is a character). I found myself wondering and caring about the people she created and l really liked the way she brought Labrador, a place I have never been, to life.
All three of us had a wonderful time with our Shadow Jury tasks again this year — we hope that visitors here and at the Mookse and the Gripes have found our thoughts useful. If there was any grumpiness to us at all, it would probably be that the Real Jury overlooked some very good longlist titles when they picked their shortlist — so check out some of the longlist reviews from both Trevor and myself which can be found in the 2010 Giller Prize menu on the sidebar to the right. The Real Jury agreed with our selection of The Bishop’s Man last year — we won’t be complaining if either of these titles is chosen by this year’s jury.
And if you have your own choice, by all means let us know in the comments. The Real Jury will announce their decision on live television on Tuesday, Nov. 9 — if you don’t have access to Canadian television, broadcaster CTV is promising international webcast coverage at http://www.Giller.CTV.ca starting at 9 p.m. EST (although the site does not seem to be operational yet).