Towards the end of the title story in this bleak yet bracing collection, a man delivers a haunting interior monologue about how people cope, or fail to cope, with loss: "Our town is full of people running back and forth in torn days and every other town is like that, too. Our world is thick with it, clotted in patterns and patterns of grief." In the remaining eleven stories, A.L. Kennedy goes on to depict such towns, such characters, all dealing in their own complex and eccentric ways with despair, longing, and the occasional glimpses of love that enter their lives. To the author's fans, none of this will come as a surprise, but the short story format does provide a more palatable way of absorbing Kennedy's pitiless worldview than do her novels, which can become nearly overbearing in their focus on human frailty and breakage.
Kennedy's trademark fascination with violence,...
Beyond the Book
"My head will keep on racing throughout this, I have no doubt," declares the speaker at the beginning of "Saturday Teatime" as she embarks on her first experience in the device known as a flotation tank, sensory deprivation tank, or isolation tank. And as she predicts, her thoughts do indeed surge in multiple directions, dredging up painful memories as she lies in salted water within an encapsulated space that she compares to a cupboard. Sealed inside this womb-like, completely dark container, she tries to reassure herself that "this must seem only snug and homely, buoyant: no overtones of drowning, suggestions of creatures that rise from unlikely depths, hints of noise underneath the silence, eager."