Post Road Magazine #28

All the Rage by A.L. Kennedy

Ethel Rohan

The greatest brilliance in one of my favorite short stories, J.D. Salinger's "A Perfect Day For Bananafish" (originally published in the New Yorker in 1948), is how it depicts the difficulty of communication between its characters-characters whose conversations, desires, and demons are rendered on the page with enormously effective indirectness. As I read the twelve stories in A.L. Kennedy's new collection, All The Rage, I reveled in how Kennedy also tells things slant-an insistent obliqueness that works to, yes, render the difficulties of communication amongst her characters, but also, like Salinger, to invite the reader more fully into her stories by making us work to understand, identify, and connect.

I've been a fan of A.L. Kennedy's work for several years now, ever since I first read her short story collection, Indelible Acts. The central themes across Kennedy's impressive body of work are love and relationships-love blooming and breaking and broken, and lovers trying to put themselves back together or willing to risk harming themselves all over again. Thankfully, the theme of love in its many states is also ever present in Kennedy's fifteenth book, All The Rage, as is Kennedy's growing refusal in her work to tell anything straight on. There's this ironic feat the fiction writer must pull off: make the real out of the fabricated. Kennedy approaches making the real out of the fabricated by rendering how cryptic people and life can be, gloriously refusing to be obvious and direct. Thus Kennedy gets at the truth in her fiction by mirroring the truth of people and of life: both are often hard to figure out, explain, and negotiate.

All The Rage is peopled with a wide range of characters-young and old, monogamous and adulterous, sober and addicted, in and out of love, the lost and the found, the open and the closed-characters with experiences, emotions, logic, and motivations that resonate, and that also sometimes seem impenetrable. Kennedy's fiction demands readers interact and infer to arrive at the point of understanding-or not. As I read, I could almost hear Kennedy urging me to Pay attention, Keep up, See harder, Know we can't always know. Above its stellar prose and skillful crafting, what I found most captivating and compelling about A.L. Kennedy's All The Rage is its honesty about what we know of people and our world and also what we can never know of people and our world, at least not fully, and such limits are true even of fiction writers, the creators of people and worlds.

I leave you with an excerpt from one of the stories I found perhaps the most obscure and compelling amongst the obscure and the compelling in All The Rage, titled "Baby Blue":

There wasn't a fountain.

There never has been.

I don't know why I added it.

I want to describe my genuine circumstances on the occasion in question, but I can't.

I don't remember a bus stop, a journey of that kind. I usually drive. There would have been parking and, before that, the customary instances of discovery, bits of waiting-I'm sure there must have been-only I had no idea they might be of importance and paid them no heed.

But I was neither in an alien country, nor suffering unusual conditions.

That rubbish isn't true.

I did get lost. True.

I was raw-eyed. True.

I had passed a shallow night holding on against a memory of altitude and claustrophobia. Doesn't everyone? True.

Go read All The Rage. Go give yourself the gift of gorgeous. Go allow your mandatory involvement with these stories. Go risk your heart.

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