Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

MACLEOD'S MENACING PARALLEL UNIVERSE

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Menace is the prevailing tone in Alexander MacLeod’s Giller Prize-nominated collection of stories, Light Lifting, from Biblioasis. This is fiction that sets your teeth on edge. The fear is palpable as you read about head lice, newborns with mysterious ailments, riding a bicycle kamikaze-style through deep snow to deliver prescriptions for a local pharmacy and even—worst of all for me—jumping off the roof of an abandoned building into the Detroit River for kicks. At night. Heights? No, thank you.

I feel a lot of emotions when I read a well-written book, but I seldom feel fear. It’s simply one of the hardest things to evoke. Fear is a tangible thing that comes from being on the spot. That is what MacLeod does. He puts you on the spot. And you feel it. While you may not thank him for it, you’ll be amazed how well and how quickly he does it.

The other thing I felt reading this collection was a strong sense of déjà vu, though déjà vu once removed. MacLeod grew up in Windsor, Ontario. He now lives in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, and teaches university in Halifax. I, too, grew up in Windsor (among other places) before moving to Dartmouth, later to attend university in Halifax. If Wikipedia is to be believed, MacLeod is younger than me (and who am I to doubt Wikipedia?) To a certain extent, we have led parallel lives, slightly out of synch. When MacLeod was jumping off roofs into the Detroit River, I was already scouting out his future territory in Dartmouth. Probably just as well for me, because I think he’d scare me to death if we ever met.

“Fear was an illness,” says the narrator of one of MacLeod’s stories, as though it were something to be cured—one way or another. Those who are fond of roller coasters, skydiving and bungee jumping may feel I am exaggerating. I recognize many of the places in this book, but don’t recognize myself, except perhaps as the kid skulking in the corner trying to avoid having to take a turn at risking his life. I understood the laws of physics; I knew how gravity worked. I didn’t muck about with that stuff.


Sure, I know it’s only a book, but what MacLeod makes you feel is that those kids were really up on that roof at one time, and at least one them lived to tell the story, only you don’t know what happened to the rest of them till you finish reading. Scary? Oh, yeah.

3 comments

Yes, your fun in linking the visuals to the text is evident. You invite the eye to wander between image and line, reading and looking. Your inventiveness in creating these blogs stands out, and I look forward to more!
The Emigrants is also one of my favourite books, but I came to Sebald through Austerlitz. I was drawn to the book by the sepia cover image-- a boy in period costume-- and bought it at the airport for a long flight. I started reading at takeoff and didn't stop till we touched down. I was completely absorbed by the part-history, part-mystery, part-essay, part-dream that is Sebald's signature mode-- always interspersed with haunting, evocative black-and-white photos.

I love your use of visuals, Jeffrey. Have you read W.G. Sebald?

Many thanks for your kind note. As you can probably tell, I have a lot of fun joining the images to the text. I also enjoy the learning process involved in searching out the images and discovering what makes people post the pictures they do. And yes, Sebald is a good call. I've enjoyed a number of his books. I'm particularly fond of The Emigrants. I love that sense of history being unearthed and the past explored, as much through text as the minute details of the images he chooses to illustrate as much as offset the text through visual counterpoint.

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Jeffrey Round

Jeffrey Round is an award-winning writer and director. His most recent novel is The Honey Locust.

Go to Jeffrey Round’s Author Page