Despite its title, there is nothing easy about Light Lifting, the first collection of short stories from acclaimed Nova Scotian author Alexander MacLeod. It’s easy to say his work captures the spirit of the everyman. His characters and their dialogue are rooted in familiar territory that needs no romanticization. And yet that doesn’t do justice to the strain put into naturalizing every detail, description and conversation. It doesn’t explain how the sound of a glass bottle clinking against a row of teeth can induce a particular sense memory. It doesn’t capture why a crew of Detroit Pistons fans discussing the team’s best nicknames must inevitably arrive at Vinny “The Microwave” Johnson, as if such a conclusion was universal truth.
It’s also easy to say that the stories focus on the body and on athletics, both competitive and casual. But that doesn’t come close to commending how MacLeod captures the physical form, such as in his brilliant description of swimming and that thrilling realization of how malleable water can be when you propel yourself through it with a simple cycling of your limbs. And finally, it’s easy to say that this work is dark, from the haunting train tracks embossed on its cover to the often-tragic endings included inside.
Yet all this doesn’t give credit to the beautiful strength and perseverance MacLeod returns to throughout this collection. His writing captures that fullness of the human condition, where every debasing, horrible urge is in concert with superhuman ability. This collection does not deny the burden is heavy, but tells us that to concentrate only on that lifting you run the risk of missing the light. Truthfully, there is nothing easy about Light Lifting. Its brand of brilliance is located in its difficulty, where enjoyment is not taken but earned. (Alex Gurnham)
Alexander MacLeod, 219 pgs, Biblioasis, biblioasis.com, $19.95