I don’t read short stories. I think the only other short story collection I read start to finish was by Alistair MacLeod. Short stories have never really spoken to me the way a novel does. I read for escape more than anything, and I need to be wrapped up in a story, consumed by it, to really enjoy it. So I struggled at first to read this.
Admittedly, the first story, Miracle Mile, didn’t really speak to me. Adolescent boys. Athletes. Risk takers. I bunch of things I never was. Then the next story, Wonder About Parents, spoke to me a little too well. I was in tears. And I am not a parent. So I put the book aside for a while, not picking it up again for almost two months. At which point I read the title story, Light Lifting, and was absolutely blown away. Funny how that can happen. It just got better from there. Adult Beginner I made me extremely happy merely for not ending the way I cynically thought it would. The Loop was absolutely brilliant, and Good Kids, also fabulous, reminded me of my days in a large family, one of the “good kids” (but not always living up to it) and the expectations that came with that. Even The Number Three, whose conclusion I wasn’t happy with, was so well set up I can’t say I didn’t like it.
What I remember about this collection is not so much the stories, but the characters. The people stand out – their fears, their choices and their regrets.
MacLeod has a gift for creating characters. Within a few pages, you know them. They are as familiar as your uncle, your neighbour, your coworker. Your heart breaks for them – because I must say, these are not happy stories. Happy stories are nice for family story time, but past the age of ten, does anyone really enjoy or believe them? Not really. (I’m not that much of a cynic, really. But life is difficult. Part of being happy is realizing and accepting that, no?)
I won’t bore you with descriptions of plots. I will just tell you to buy the book. Keep it on a side table in your most comfortable room. Pick it up once or twice a week until you’ve read it through. You won’t be sorry.
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Biblioasis; Reprint edition (April 5, 2011)
* Short listed for the 2010 Giller Prize.