Light Lifting by Alexander MacLeod is a muscular collection of short stories. That is to say, the collection is filled with physicality of all sorts. There are long-distance runners, hockey players, bike riders, physical laborers, risk-taking high-jumping swimmers, death-defying fevers, and violent death itself.
Mr. MacLeod parades his characters before the reader, illustrating many ways of being an ordinary human. These are regular people, experiencing the subtle realities of typical lives and living out those experiences through the blood and tissue of their physical presence in the world.
One of the most important things that appears to be true about Alexander MacLeod is that he takes the time to know his subject before writing about it. Whether or not he has experienced track, or hockey, or jumping off a roof into swirling water, he certainly has experienced it in his mind. For this reason, the tone of the book doesn’t falter. There is a certainty to his tales, even as they wind and ramble.
“The stories got long because I needed a series of things to happen in order for the final decision or action to mean anything,” Mr. MacLeod says. And he takes his time with this as well, showing the patience of a storyteller of more advanced age, rather than first-time author he is.
The stories are about endurance, about the ways in which we push, or are pushed, to our limits and beyond. In “Miracle Mile,” the long-distance runner who narrates tells us, “Really, it’s the opposite of healthy. People will do anything to make those numbers go down. Some of them gobble big spoonfuls of straight baking soda before a race even though they know it gives you this brutal, bloody diarrhea an hour later. That’s nothing. It’s even legal. They can’t ban you for baking soda, but I know guys who cross over, guys juiced up on EPO and guys who just disappear for a year and then come back like superstars. They say they’ve been training at altitude on some mountain in Utah, but everybody knows they’ve been through the lab, getting their transfusions, and playing around with their red blood cell count.”
The story is a metaphor for what we all do to ourselves in our zeal to reach whatever goal we believe we must.
The stories are also about surviving: A baby girl, burning with fever, on the brink of death, is pulled back to life by the determined actions of an angry doctor; a man who lives, but only barely, after the death of his wife and son in an auto accident for which he can’t forgive himself; an eight-year-old boy who gets moved around a lot by a mother on the run from the punishments of poverty.
The stories in Light Lifting are set in the urban Canada rarely written about, in this case, right across the border from the mess of an economically ruined United States. These are people who are struggling in that distance between life’s promise and its realities. They demand a lot of themselves, of their bodies and their spirits. They face whatever comes, and expect the ache we all feel, deep within our beings, when we find ourselves pushed beyond endurance.
Mr. MacLeod offers a loving look at these characters and takes his time to reveal them in a way that encourages us to understand that, within each of them, exists something of ourselves.