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“For as long as the world has had people on it, there has always been a person like me.  Someone who does not care for what is available and, instead, wants only to view the masterpiece that has never been displayed, or to touch the relic that should not be disturbed, and purchase the item that is not for sale.”    from the story “What, Exactly, Do You Think You Are Looking At?”

coverOne of my favorite stories from the story collection, Animal Person, by Canadian author Alexander MacLeod – “What, Exactly, Do You Think You Are Looking At?” – typifies the creativity and the ironies with which MacLeod presents his characters.  His stories feel, at first, as if the characters are ordinary people leading ordinary lives, but the author is so creative and so in control of every aspect of these stories, that he is always able to take them in new directions,  full of surprises.  The main character describes his own life in the review’s opening quotation here, creating the impression that he is a creative and imaginative person looking for excitement. He does, in fact, display some of these independent characteristics, but he is also a loner, a man afraid of real contact with real people, someone who creates a totally false life for himself and those he affects through his behavior.  He quickly admits that “Other people are always trying to show me things and bring me places, but none of it – not one molecule, not a single atom – of what they have to offer has ever interested me.” Following a practiced routine, this character describes getting off a plane at LAX, putting on his sunglasses, and proceeding to the baggage carousel, at which he promptly takes a bag which does not belong to him, and leaves the airport.  He does not plan to rob the bag or keep it, though the amount of time he has it in his possession “all depends on what [he] finds inside.”

luggage (2)If the bag contains a Slinky or an old ViewMaster or other children’s toys, the character gets bored instantly because he has “nothing to work with,” but if it is a bag like “Tanya’s bag,” the one he just stole and opened two days ago, it is akin to finding one of the world’s great treasures. By opening this bag, he “meets” Tanya, discovers her purple-sequined costume, knee-high boots with elevated heels, white gloves, false eyelashes, and plastic tiara, and he is excited by this once-in-a-lifetime experience.  He imagines conversing withTanya, telling her that he took special care of her possessions, and suggesting they fly wherever she wants to go, and he will pay for everything. Later, when he returns the bag to the airport baggage area,  he waits excitedly, enjoying even the light surrounding the whole experience of Tanya and the bag, and wishing for the opportunity to explain himself to her.  “I want her to know that I took special care.”  A dramatic ending shows his limitations.

Albrecht Durer's Lagomorph

Albrecht Durer’s Lagomorph

In “Lagomorph,” the story of a marriage and a rabbit, MacLeod creates the story of an exhausted marriage, one in which husband and wife spend significant amounts of time separated, with husband David often at home taking care of Gunther, an elderly rabbit which had complicated the family’s daily life over the years.  The children have grown up and out of the house and lost interest, David has problems with asthma from the rabbit, and Sarah is away and working much of the time.  David’s attempt to give the rabbit the equivalent of a day off by taking it outside with him while he works in the yard leads to a whole new reality.  “The things it had done and the things I had done.  I did not know what any of them mean.”  

A young piano player gets help at a recital.Anyone who ever dreaded piano recitals and panicked as they approached, will appreciate “The Entertainer,” the tale of Darcy, a young man preparing for a recital of “The Entertainer,” a piece which he knows everyone in the audience also knows.  Presenting all the characters involved in the music school and its presentation at an elderly housing complex, the goals the adults all have, and the pressure felt by the students, especially young Darcy, create a world of music and the responsibilities of those who play it and direct it. Everyone is emotionally involved, and Darcy, in particular, suffers from panic at the difficulty of the music he is going to be playing.  Help from an outsider and a surprising new approach to the music becomes the key to solving his problem as his solo begins.  A shift into a more traditional story, “The Dead Want,” tells of the death of a young woman, Beatrice, who was thrown from a car and killed in a terrible night-time accident.  Her boyfriend, Cory, whom Bea’s family dislikes and refuses to allow at the funeral because they believe him guilty of her death, is understandably devastated.  Joe, a long-time friend who grew up with Bea and always considered her a girlfriend, is asked for a favor by one of Bea’s friends, and his actions, totally contrary to what he might have done under any other circumstances, show him as he really is and will be in the future.

motel image“The Closing Date” involves a murderer with a plumbing business who rents a room in a motel beside the room where a young a man, his pregnant wife, and very young daughter are staying.  The family has had a casual speaking relationship with this man next door and are present in the adjacent unit when two murders take place.  Busy with plans to buy a house, they spend little time thinking of the murder, or as Mark explains later, “We do not know where we are in the arc of our lives – old or young, safe or exposed, closer to the beginning or the end, brushing up against each or far away from it.  We do not know if the decisive moment has arrived or if it is yet to come.  Led only by what we desire, we go out into the world and we make our way. And then we sleep, each of us in temporary bedrooms that will one day be occupied by other people.”  

Author Alexander MacLeod

Author Alexander MacLeod

Author Alexander MacLeod, who is also the son of famed author Alistair MacLeod, winner of the International Dublin Literary Award, has won prizes of his own for his short stories.  The reaction to Alexander MacLeod’s collection, with two shortlisted nominations for the Giller and Commonwealth Book Prizes, suggests more prizes will be coming.  His work is filled with unique and heart-breaking insights, presented with irony and empathy, as his characters realize their limitations and recognize a pathway forward, a pathway often unexpected and individualized, based on decisions and the recognitions they show within these stories.

Photos.  The baggage carousel appears on https://www.businesstraveller.com

The Durer rabbit is from https://en.wikipedia.org

The duet photo may be found at https://www.musicnotes.com/now/tips/11-tips-for-playing-piano-duets

The motel sign appears on https://www.littlehotelier.com

The author photo may be found at http://www.gaspereau.com


08-2022 Reviews, Canada, Psychological study, Short Stories
Written by: Alexander MacLeod
Published by: FSG
Date Published: 04/05/2022
ISBN: 978-0374602222
Available in: Paperback Hardcover

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