A.L. Kennedy

What Becomes: Stories 
A. L. Kennedy 
KNOPF

Reviewed by benjamin Schwarz

July/August Atlantic

alkennedy

In this story collection, her 10th book of fiction, Kennedy, an enormously accomplished Scottish writer, returns to difficult, broken characters and her bleakly humorous métier. Her last book, the Costas Award–winning novel Day, was probably her most accessible—and her least typical. Here Kennedy is familiarly off-kilter (“Story of My Life” revolves around the protagonist’s deadpan, excruciating recounting of her successive dental traumas); unwelcoming (“Sympathy,” a tour de force that could easily be a disaster, recounts entirely in dialogue an episode of anonymous sex in a hotel room); and desolate (most of these stories involve marriages unhappy or unraveling; violence animates several and lurks in most). A preternaturally refined stylist, Kennedy leaves the reader shaken but not depressed: these are stories of endurance, not despair. And humor, albeit of a particularly hard-won variety, suggests Kennedy (a sometime stand-up comic), is vital to fortitude, even if that humor is sidelong and, though humane, unrelentingly cheerless.

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