108 Zadie Smith, Paul Auster
11 1 The Comics Journal Library
1 15 The Thing
1 16 Ocean’s Eleven
1 1 7 Jade, Tutankhamun
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lndelible Acts (Jonathan Capo 5712.99; 0....
Often, collections of short stories are published without fanfare, as if they were the literary equivalent of the basket of bread you gnaw on before the meat and three veg arrives. This is baffling. Surely, an accomplished short story reads like a sharp rush of adrenaline and is therefore tailor- made for our ever-diminishing attention spans.
Admittedly, collections by jaded authors can feel like the scraped- together leftovers of some ruthlessly edited longer work. With AL Kennedy this is never the case. Kennedy is indisputably a daring and inventive novelist, from the quiet passion of Looking for the Possible Dance to the dense exploration of human failure that is Everything you Need. But for me the best of Kennedy is in her shorter fiction, with collections such as Original Bliss providing the most potent distillation of the author’s insight, wit and lyrical verve.
Kennedy stepped, calmly confident, into the literary arena when only 25 with her first volume of stories Night Geometry and the Garscadden Trains, an early illustration of her wry concern with the minutiae of relationships from the standpoint of marginal characters. The commotion that greeted the publication of Now that you’re Back led to Kennedy being much in demand as a critic and cultural commentator, while the provocative Original Bliss coupled her interest in the downright sweep of sexual relationships with prose both striking and seductive.
lndelible Acts finds the author returning to the rich terrain of suppressed desires and lonely longings, home to unremarkable folk who are at once driven, identified and restricted by their need for another. Despite the familiar theme, the
‘This woman is a profound writer’
It’s better to have loved and suffered than never to have loved at all
0.... Excellent 0... Recommended 0.. Good
1 18 Winter warmers
120 Golf Weekend
122 Hot dogs
predicaments explored here are as weirdly divergent as anything in Original Bliss.
Several of the tales pursue Kennedy’s fascination with the isolation that exists within relationships. In ‘Spared’ and ‘A Little Like Light’, loneliness is seen to breed bitterness, leading the protagonists into guilty and unsatisfying acts of infidelity. ‘A Wrong Thing’ nimbly intertwines remorseful memories of a relationship’s drawn-out conclusion with the gory symptoms of an exotic fever. Meanwhile, the extraordinary ‘White House at Night’ depicts a man tortured to the point of derangement by his own graphic imaginings of his partner’s affair.
The collection characteristically eschews fantasy worlds and lofty gimmicks, but takes in the black comedy exhibited in Original Bliss. In the title story, a Roman holiday is spoiled when a woman expresses her disappointment at not finding her lover pissing on her ‘erotic’, while ‘Touch Positive’ leaves us in the company of a man whose blissful complacency has a destructive effect on his relationships.
Elsewhere, ‘An Immaculate Man’, about a solicitor harbouring a debilitating infatuation for his colleague and ‘A Bad Son’, the story of a damaged boy who recognises potential salvation in his friendship with a popular classmate, demonstrate Kennedy’s unusual sensitivity and talent for getting inside the heads of her disparate characters.
The critics who have accused Kennedy of being miserable appear to be going out of their way to avoid the subtle pleasures of her work. Throughout lndelible Acts Kennedy’s somewhat bleak, brutal view of relationships is assuaged by humour, honesty and sympathy, leaving an overall impression that it is better to have loved and suffered than never to have loved at all. (Allan Radcliffe)
H) ’. THE LIST 107