Buried Treasure

By AL Kennedy on 'Casey Agonistes' by Richard Milton McKenna

Richard Milton McKenna used science fiction to reach out for the world in careful, sparse prose: exploring the nature of reality and illusion, the fragility of personality and the reactions of men under pressure - sometimes intolerable pressure. McKenna joined the US Navy at 18 during the Depression and educated himself by reading, driving his mind: "sometimes I would grip a book hard enough to tear it". In 1953, he retired after 22 years' service and went to college. Then he began to write - muscular, oddly tender prose that's full of savage invention, dark humour and a knowledge of life's hard places; its pain, loss and despair. His 1963 novel The Sand Pebbles was an immediate bestseller, but his one posthumous collection of stories, Casey Agonistes (Pan, 1976; available from amazon.co.uk) would be my choice - a truly stunning selection of honest, insightful explorations.

AL Kennedy's new novel is 'Paradise' (Jonathan Cape)