Well if ever there was a collection of short stories whose name mislead you, this was it. Seriously, this collection should have been called “false advertising” not “light Lifting.” It is positively the more depressing collection of stories I’ve ever read, moreso even then books written with that goal in mind like Stephen King’s Full Dark, No Stars.
It’s explained within the context of one of the stories that “light lifting” actually alludes to making many trips with small loads, like hauling bricks, and at the end you’ve hurt yourself and you’re not sure why. In that sense the title is appropriate, as each story weighs on you more and more until at the end you’re ready to slit your wrists and you’re not sure why.
That’s this 2010 collection from Alexander MacLoud in a nutshell, reading these constantly depressing stories. It’s exceptionally well written and descriptive: each one of them could be a full novel in and of themselves. The characters are believable and the situations engaging. I think if I read any of these in an anthology series with multiple authors any of these would be my favorite… but read together? It’s a bit much.
And it’s not the depressing nature of the stories. Other collections, again like Full Dark, No Stars can get away with this because each is different. MacLoud’s stories are fairly formulaic, and once you read three of them and understood the pattern it becomes predictable and tiresome. It’s like an M. Night Shyamalan plot-twist: eventually it’s so predictable that it’s not a twist at all.
Let’s look at a few.
The first story, “Miracle Mile,” is the tale of two obsessed runners that kind of reminded me of “World Record” from the AniMatrix, but that’s just me. These two, the narrator and Burner, are friends who have devoted their lives to running, even going so far as to race trains to train. Near the end Burner wins, and all seems well… until on the walk home a little girl on a bike mockingly taunts “you can’t catch me” and Burner runs after her and beats the shit out of her, and the story ends.
Yeah, what the fuck right?
Another story, “Wonder About Parents” jumps in time with parents dealing with sick children at various levels of severity: trouble conceiving, swine flu, lice, and kidney failure. It deals with a harrowing experience some parents have to go through, but I worked it out: if arranged chronologically, this story would end on the happy, humerus note of making an oral sex joke while checking each other for lice. MacLoud CHOSE to end it with those parents in a hospital room, unsure of their child’s fate.
Again, each story is fine and well crafted, but so similar in tone and theme that I think collecting them in this way was a mistake. It’s kind of baffling. I mean there’s having a consistent tone and then there’s beating a dead horse.
MacLoud really does remind me of the Canadian Lit version of Shyamalan, a celebrated creator that nonetheless gets a negative reputation by sticking too closely to the same schick.
But apparently I’m alone, as this was shortlisted for the Giller prize.
Light Lifting was good prose, but it fails as a collection.
“MacLoud really does remind me of the Canadian Lit version of Shyamalan, a celebrated creator that nonetheless gets a negative reputation by sticking too closely to the same schick.”