The complications of loving and the pains of estrangement are explored with restrained wit and emotion in this new collection from the prizewinning Scottish author (Everything You Need, 2001, etc.).
The weakest of these dozen stories are generally those that don’t develop beyond core expressions of longing, regret, or resentment. “Not Anything to Do with Love,” for example, though beautifully written, amounts to little more than its unidentified narrator’s reflections on a recently concluded love affair. “Touch Positive,” about a recently discarded husband losing himself in quotidian errands, and “Awaiting an Adverse Reaction,” in which a woman being inoculated before taking a foreign trip considers escape from her nondescript husband, seem equally thin. But the strength of the volume is Kennedy’s command of several intriguingly varied voices, such as those heard in “An Immaculate Man,” which precisely records the emotional whirligig that engulfs a timid divorce attorney unhinged by what he takes to be a homosexual advance made by his married boss. In “Spared,” an unhappy husband finds both sexual gratification and apocalyptic terror in a hastily experienced adulterous dalliance. In the elaborately conceived “White House at Night,” a forensic expert investigating atrocities in an embattled Eastern European country is himself violated by stunned apprehension of his own romantic and sexual vulnerability. A boy too young and frail to defend his mother against his father’s abuse fantasizes becoming her avenger (“A Bad Son”). And a janitor who moonlights as an amateur magician (in “A Little Like Light”) must settle for the appearance rather than the reality of happiness in a sexless “affair” that leads him to realize that “The best love is a little like light. . . . It is beautiful and terrible and blinding and you will never understand the trick of it.”
Uneven but often striking work from one of the UK’s best younger writers.