What Becomes by A L Kennedy

What Becomes What Becomes by A.L. Kennedy

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
After Indelible Acts, Kennedy’s collection from 2002 and her first one, with that long title starting with Night Geometry, this new one, What Becomes, continues her inimical style of writing. She doesn’t subscribe to the type of writing which is taught in most writing schools or classes: simple, to the point, edited to the essentials only, almost to the bare essentials, no superfluous words - in short, very American.

No one could ever teach Kennedy’s style of writing, not even Kennedy herself. It is a style unto its own, very recognisable hers and hers alone. Kennedy, because of this, stands in the same league as another Brit writer, Ali Smith. What is so strange about this is : both of them are from Scotland. However, unlike other Scots writers they do not utilise Scot slang or patois; well, not that much.

In Kennedy’s stories in this collection she gets you into her characters’ heads with inner dialogue, which you’d come to recognise as they stand out in italics. Very unusual this, but perhaps as some kind of distancing from the character, she would sometimes use the second-person pronoun the way another writer would the third-person. I say unusual because this also brings the character’s thoughts and actions a litter closer; a contradiction, I know. She did this so well in her last novel Day.

But, not all the stories here are in this vein. One in which a man and woman talk between themselves prior to and when having some kind of sexual activity is the closest this dialogue-only style veers away from her norm. That piece, called 'Sympathy', can be deemed so intimate, so private, you the reader gets somewhat (yes, it can happen, to me, at least) embarrassed eavesdropping on them.

Then, at the end of the book, Kennedy gets back on track, back to her style, with most poignant story, about a man who has broken up with someone. Before the breakup he had bought them tickets to a magician’s show. Now, apart, he just wants to give away her part of the tickets to anyone who would take it, without paying him. He doesn’t want payment. Finally someone does take his offer, but he sits beside him in the theatre. Kennedy evokes the tension he feels while watching the show and while being aware of his talkative neighbour: quite the best writing for a short story I’ve ever come across.

Actually, quite all the stories achieve this kind of empathy from the reader. From the first story onwards, the title piece, 'What Becomes', you are inside the character’s world, listening to his inner thoughts and emotions, seeing what he sees, which is a cinema screen with no pictures yet, in an empty cine complex. The rest of the stories in the book are just as absorbing to read.

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