BOOK REVIEW / Spaces in between: 'Now That You're Back' - A L Kennedy: Cape, 8.99 pounds

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The Independent Culture
THIS IS A L Kennedy's second collection of stories, following the prize-

winning Night Geometry and the Garscadden Trains and her fine novel Looking for the Possible Dance. Here she writes as before of dislocation, the empty spaces between people, the quenching of aspiration and the fearful logic of deranged minds. Her vision is bleak but stoic; she keeps a cool distance from her characters, overseeing them with a sardonic eye.

Two-thirds of this book, however, suffers from such an excess of detachment that it is impossible to engage with the inconsequential meanderings of these maimed lives. You just don't care, and are minded to give up. Then, in the last five stories, Kennedy displays her gift for dialogue and her versatility. There is a wildly funny and convincing portrait of a homely American serial killer, a heart-rending afternoon in the life of a brain-damaged boy, and (for once) a tender love affair, whose happiness outweighs its incongruities. She calls up all the colour and quirkiness of lived experience; backgrounds, urban or rural, are vividly conjured in a few laconic lines.

While there is no excess, at any time, the sparse elegance of Kennedy's prose is occasionally illumined by images of startling wit and lyricism: a woman describes her sense of joy as 'a little golden frog, dancing under my heart'; a pair of high heels are 'belligerently delicate, a wonderful little proof that walking and pavements need no longer be a part of life'.

This uneven collection also contains two woefully ponderous and unfunny satirical pieces which are at odds with the rest and an embarrassment to read. Worse still, Cape have chosen to print a coy little blue card bearing an extract from one of them as a sort of 'gift' with the book. This kind of thing can put people off and that would be a big pity, for no one should miss the last few stories, and most especially the title one, 'Now That You're Back'; here is a work of art.

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