Island by Alistair MacLeod in Thresholds

Published by the University of Chichester, Thresholds is the leading forum for short fiction theory and criticism in the UK. The ‘We Recommend’ series includes pieces by K J Orr and Tania Hershman. MacLeod is my favourite short story writer because he shows us how place shapes a person’s life experience. Read the review in full on their website.

There’s a moment in Alistair MacLeod’s ‘The Vastness of the Dark’ when the young narrator, driving through a down-at-heel mining town, in a car with out of state licence plates, stares at the people on the street, who briefly look back at him, and he realises: ‘Their glances have summed me up and dismissed me as casually as that … “What can he know of our near-deaths and pain and who lies buried in our graves?”’ In Island: Collected Stories, MacLeod gives a voice to forgotten towns like this one, so that we can begin to understand their lives and struggles. The car, idling on a side street while passers-by look in, could also be an analogy for the reading of short stories. The narrator tells us:

‘For it is as if I am not part of their lives at all but am here only in a sort of movable red and glass showcase that has come for a while to their private anguish-ridden streets and will soon roll on and leave them the same as before my coming…’

The story is here to alter our perspectives for a while, to make us think, but will soon disappear around a bend, tail lights fading in the dusk […]