Light Lifting by Alexander MacLeod is anything but light. In a collection of seven short stories, his characters face the physical reality of life, death, illness, and exhaustion. They are fighters, they are bricklayers, they are swimmers struggling for life against the Nova Scotia tide.
MacLeod structures the majority of his stories with a tight narrative and short sentences that punch. He uses flashback often, but in such a way that it adds to the character’s depth. He writes successfully from a variety of perspectives – his main characters are athletes, young women, widowed men, and weary fathers.
In Miracle Mile, the first story in the collection, MacLeod deftly illustrates the fierce competitiveness among runners, the racing scene, cortisone injections, and laps around the 1500. In order to win, two friends taunt danger, and flirt with their own mortality. Campbell watches his teammate Burner as the “…train kept coming down on him like some massive predator and he shouldn’t have had a chance, but he was like that one stupid gazelle…the one who somehow gets away even though the cheetahs or lions or hyenas should already be feasting.”
Wonder About Parents tells the story in pieces. In chunks. Past and present are interspersed in no particular order, as the narrator deals with his family’s lice infestation. He questions his success as a parent, while meticulously researching the biology and history of the louse. Again, MacLeod’s characters take physical risks, this time as they drive with their ailing infant to spend Christmas with their parents. When the baby must be hospitalized, the narrator seems to wake up, and grow up, to understand that he is responsible. Short, terse sentences drive the point home as the new father confronts the emergency room doctor, “We glare at each other. I sway in my own exhausted stench. Close my eyes for one second. I know what I look like.”
Adult Beginner I is perhaps the most powerful story in the collection. Stacey learns to swim after a childhood of fear due to near-drowning. Standing on the top of the sixty foot tall Holiday Inn, she readies herself to dive into the Detroit River, a feat, a dare, accomplished by her swimming instructor friends. She vacillates. “ ‘I don’t know about this,’ Stace says. She feels in-between. As though she is standing inside one version of herself, while the next person in line, the girl she is about to become, gestures…and waits.” The tension ratchets up throughout the story – will she take the dare?
Read Light Lifting. Be prepared for thick, physical tension that carries the story to unexpected ends.
Light Lifting, published by Biblioasis, was a finalist for the 2010 Giller Prize.