by Andrew McCallum Crawford
Review by Bill Kirton
This is a short collection of six easy to read stories which recount various incidents in the life of a young Scot. We see their surfaces, their separateness, but we're also made aware of the echoes between and the depths beneath them.
In a foreword, the author prepares us for the collection by reminding us that they’re stand-alone pieces which ‘in no way’ constitute ‘a novella or a novelette’. Equally, though, he acknowledges that strong links and themes run through them and the resultant grouping conveys very strongly their potential as a ‘continuous narrative’. The tantalising effect of the sequence is to make us want to know more of what happened between the episodes and events he chooses. As it is, we can enjoy each passage as a self-contained story but, simultaneously, we create our own version of how the relationships shifted and developed in the ‘gaps’.
They’re all told from the perspective of a single narrator, Alan, observing and experiencing the separation between his own lifestyle, choices and opportunities and those of his father. The language often seems to suggest confrontation and yet there’s no mistaking the tenderness, nostalgia and love that informs it. There’s an artlessness, a deceptive simplicity about many of the exchanges between Alan and his father when we hear the abruptness of the delivery, the seeming carelessness of the remarks and hidden accusations, and we know that both parties want to say other things, want to express the love that connects them. It’s a love that never gets articulated and yet it suffuses nearly all their contacts.
The writing is clever. There are no great tragic outpourings; tragedy is a very personal experience, marked by memories of seemingly trivial things – finding lost golf balls, sharpening a saw, cutting through a counter, sensing yet never penetrating a secret shared by two girls. But, when recollected, they have the resonance of major life events, signifying much more than their surface suggests. The stories convey the fragmentation of life, its refusal to cohere into a constant flow, the power of memories and the helplessness we feel before them.
The feeling which remains is that Alan is somehow lost in his own life. It’s failed to settle into the meanings he seeks for it, remaining instead as a collection of disconnected fragments, each consisting of elements which should draw them together. So in the end, we come to realise the artfulness of those claims in the foreword. Our lives consist of fragments – we can group and structure them to imply a significance but, in the end, the idea of a ‘continuous narrative’ is a myth. We need to live in and understand the moment. Above all, we need to be prepared to see the value of the trivial and tell the emotional truths which are the real driving force of our being.