Fifteen Modern Tales of Attraction by Alison MacLeod

I realise that I didn’t post this review when it was first published at The Short Review, so here it is now!

These are indeed fifteen modern tales of attraction in which MacLeod relates stories of love, electricity, hearts, and death. Here is an author unafraid to push at the shape of what a story can be, what it can say.

Some of the stories are surreal and startling, the characters revealing unusual desires. It is because of the author’s skill that we accept the strange urges: Nineteen-year-old Naomi wants to have sex with a dead man in Sacred heart, and she is utterly believable. Gloria craves both electric shock therapy and the doctor who administers it in Live Wire.

Nina ponders her knowledge of penises and describes them thus: “…primitive life forms: single-celled creatures who live, blind and unpigmented, in the pools of caves, sluggishly longing for transformation.” She is very aware of the effect that she has on all males, including her friend’s young son.

Rosie’s tongue is playful and wordy, E-Love: Heloise and Abelard offers up email exchanges between the lovers. It is excellent to see such experimentation with form, and yet it leads to a slightly choppy feel to the collection. Personally I found two stand-out stories to be two of the most conventionally told. They were written with such brilliant illumination, and were both extraordinarily moving. The first is So that the land was darkened, where we witness a relationship over six years, glimpsed in three parts that reveal everything to make this a living, breathing, love affair. I won’t say more for fear of ruining it for you, but I found it powerful and resonant.

Dirty weekend explores a relationship in two parts, one where both characters are full of life and lust, and the other, a couple of years later, with one of them dying as they make a last attempt at a traditional smutty weekend break in Brighton. Even when dealing with such subjects MacLeod never resorts to sentimentality or saccharine.

Oh, and don’t be put off by the cover, it doesn’t do justice to the intelligent and provocative work within!

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