Summary and book reviews of What Becomes by A.L. Kennedy

What Becomes

Stories

By A.L. Kennedy

What Becomes
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  • Hardcover: Apr 2010,
    224 pages.
    Paperback: Apr 2011,
    224 pages.

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Book Summary

Twice selected for Granta’s list of Best Young British Novelists, winner of the 2007 Costa Book Award for her acclaimed novel Day (“Day is a novel of extraordinary complexity”—The New York Review of Books), which was also chosen as one of New York magazine’s top ten books of the year—the internationally revered A. L. Kennedy returns with a story collection whose glorious wit and vitality make this a not-to-be-missed addition to the canon of one of our most formidable young writers.

No one captures the spirit of our times like A. L. Kennedy, with her dark humor, poignant hopefulness, and brilliant evocation of contemporary social and spiritual malaise. In the title story, a man abandons his indifferent wife and wanders into a small-town movie theater where he finds himself just as invisible as he was at home. In the masterfully comic “Saturday Teatime,” a woman trying to relax in a flotation tank is hijacked by memories of her past. In “Whole Family with Young Children Devastated,” a woman, inadvertently drawn into a stranger’s marital dysfunction, meditates on the failings of modern life as seen through late-night television and early-morning walks.

Powerful and funny, intimate and profound, the stories in What Becomes are further proof that Kennedy is one of the most dazzling and inventive writers of her generation

What Becomes

The cinema was tiny: twelve rows deep from the blacked-out wall and the shadowed doorway down to the empty screen, which had started to bother him now, a kind of hanging absence.

How did they make any money with a place this small? Even if it was packed?

Which it wasn’t. Quite the reverse. There was, in fact, no one else here. Boy at the door had to turn the lights on just for him, Frank feeling bad about this, thinking he shouldn’t insist on seeing a film all by himself and might as well go to the bigger space they kept upstairs which had a balcony and quite probably leg room and would be more in the way of a theatre and professional. In half an hour they’d be showing a comedy up there.

Or he could drive to a multiscreen effort: there’d been one in the last big town as he came round the coast—huge glass and metal tower, looked like a part of an airport: they’d have an audience, they’d have audiences to spare.

Although that was a guess and ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

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... If all this sounds incredibly depressing… well, it sometimes is... On the other hand, her sharp sense of humor acts as a rescuing hand reaching into the bottom of a well, offering a saving grace to her characters in their darkest moments of despair.   (Reviewed by Marnie Colton).

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Media Reviews
The Telegraph (UK)

Kennedy has such control of her material that it never overwhelms the reader or becomes showily gothic. Only one story seems slightly silly, 'Marriage’, which describes a husband hitting his wife and ends with the suggestion that this is what marriage is like, but otherwise, this is a first-rate collection.

The Globe and Mail (Canada)

Kennedy knows how to write pain in all its stark detail, while managing to gently highlight the humour in the tragic reality of life. What Becomes is a collection of stories of loners trying not to be, and it is deeply moving.

The Independent (UK)

In bald summary, the plots sound unremittingly grim... Yet the experience of reading them is far from depressing. Not that they're exactly uplifting; not for Kennedy the confected uplift, the phoney epiphany beloved of so many short-story writers. Like Eeyore, she's a born comic whose shtick is never to crack a smile once she has the room cracking up.

The Guardian (UK)

These are wonderfully textured pieces, varying from sentence to sentence, mood to mood, committed to capturing the precariousness and unsteadiness of individual mental landscapes.

The Spectator (UK)

The hardest thing about the advent of a new collection of stories by A. L. Kennedy... is the search for synonyms for 'brilliant'.

The Scotsman (UK)

... honesty, empathy, grace and originality... What Becomes has them all in abundance, and achieves more powerful gut punches in its 217 pages than many novels manage in triple the length... Kennedy has produced another stunning, impressive and genuinely enjoyable collection, hard not to be charmed by.

Library Journal

Although comic in spots, this brilliant collection is finally very dark, painting a pretty bleak picture of human existence. Recommended for fans of stories by Margaret Atwood or Doris Lessing.

Booklist

These are stories that are hard to read and even harder to forget.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. These stories are polished to perfection, full of very dark turns and exemplary of Kennedy's inventiveness.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. Sensitively observed, elegantly written snapshots of the human condition, unsparing yet tender.

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Flotation Tanks

"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."

The neuropsychiatrist John C. Lilly ...

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