THE SECOND CHANCE by Alan Sillitoe


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Ten stories by the author of The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner--a writer who commands attention except when he strays from his home territory (middle-class and blue-collar north England) or when he strains for symbolic, patterned effects. The best, funniest, and most deeply resonant story here--the only completely successful one--is also one of the simplest: in ""No Name in the Street,"" an ex-miner who now scrapes by with social security (and nightly golf-ball hunts at the local course) decides to move in with a middle-aged lady friend who has indoor plumbing. . . but his dog refuses to go along with this grim, passive surrender to conformity. Also effective in Sillitoe's slice-of-life vein, though without the larger echoes: a young girl's escape from a stifling, boozy household--through WW II romance with an Italian POW; a book-loving teenager's out-of-place-ness in his working-class family; and ""The Sniper,"" about an impulsive pre-WW I murderer who tries vainly to expiate his sin in battle. Sillitoe falters badly, however, when trying to capture a more contemporary, hip, upper-middle-class tone: two short pieces involving up-to-date sexual mores--a broken-up couple who meet once a year to rake over grievances and recapture a little lust, a cocktail-party encounter that trickily triggers divorce--are gimmicky, shallow, and forced. And the rest are unfulfilling fragmentary tales (a blue-collar monologue with a heavy-handed sociological point, fable-like anecdotes), except for the title story, which begins superbly but becomes a great disappointment; Sillitoe invests a familiar premise with marvelous particulars--an old, mad couple who lost their son in war become the eager victims of a con-man who resembles the dead boy exactly--but, as in the novel The Storyteller, the overworked Doppelganger theme here tips a convincing story over into tortured, murky contrivance. Only a bit of Sillitoe's best, then, but interesting work from a sturdy, quietly ambitious talent.

Pub Date: April 20th, 1981
Publisher: Simon & Schuster