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It's Beginning to Hurt: Stories Hardcover – July 21, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. This accomplished poet, novelist, and story writer's collection packs a devastating punch. Lasdun peels back the facades of middle-aged, middle-class types through their run-ins with cancer, infidelity and loss that lead them to deal with unexpectedly large and often ugly recognitions. The title story is less than three full pages, but generates near-boundless futility and regret as a businessman, having just attended the funeral of a long forgotten former lover, can't help falling back into the old habit of lying to his wife about how he's spent the day. The Incalculable Life Gesture builds to a climax of relief as an elementary school principal, feuding with his sister, follows through a series of tests that indicate he has lymphoma—until a specialist reveals the truth of his ailment. In Peter Kahn's Third Wife, a sales assistant in a jewelry boutique models necklaces for a wealthy wine importer who brings in a series of successive wives-to-be over the years. Jewels of resignation and transformative personal disaster, these stories are written so simply and cleanly that the formidable craft looks effortless. (Aug.)
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"This collection of short stories illuminates the everyday agonies of the mind, its anxieties, obsessions, doubts, and yearnings. Lasdun pins each observation to the page with grace and exactitude." --The Atlantic, Top 5 Books of 2009
"James Lasdun proved himself to be a master of the form with the enthralling psychological subtleties of It's Beginning to Hurt." --Geoff Dyer, The Guardian
“Lasdun’s novels succeed as efficient entertainments, narrowly focused, linguistically dextrous, coolly presenting their characters’ foibles . . . His short stories relinquish none of this gamesmanship, yet they seem to expand where the novels contract . . . Their characters have a complexity and confusion that override the unfolding plot. And the narratives seem opened up to the entire history of ?ction . . . Touching and revelatory . . . Devastating.” —Mark Kamine, The Times Literary Supplement
“Reading Lasdun is like reading a sly collaboration between Kafka and Updike: elegant, acutely observed and utterly unflinching . . . This is a collection that examines the most inward mechanisms of rage, fear and desire with astonishing skill and strangely lyric power.” —John Burnside, The Times (London)
“Lasdun has a Nabokovian eye. Few exponents of the short form offer such tempting, disturbing pleasures . . . It’s Beginning to Hurt is . . . a superlative collection, exhibiting all of Lasdun’s familiar talents and a few new ones into the bargain.” —Richard T. Kelly, Financial Times
“A gem . . . James Lasdun writes the best sort of English prose.” —Colin Greenland, The Guardian
“A story master.” —Tim Adams, The Observer (London)
“[Lasdun] create[s] a world of objects and feelings that are rich, recognisable and yet elusive . . . His prose [here] is marked by a thoughtful, humane exactness . . . Lasdun uses his dramatic skill to show the most subtle and delicate movements between poles of feeling.” —Tom Deveson, The Sunday Times (London)
“Like such masters of dark literature as Edgar Allan Poe and Franz Kafka, Lasdun limns the deep cracks in the soul even as his tales are enlivened by his gift for insight and ear for language. His stories are a fury of elements: skilled dramatic monologues; sketches of fraught emotional states . . . [which] are shot through with crafted verse . . . Masterful.” —Susan Comninos, The Miami Herald
“There is much to admire in Lasdun's stories, not least the astonishing beauty and precision of his imagery. In a few perfectly chosen words, Lasdun can distill a character's essence and bring him to life.” —David Bezmozgis, author of Natasha
“[This] stellar collection combines a sharp eye for detail, subtle character development and virtuosic command of narrative voice . . . [It’s Beginning to Hurt] merits comparison with the understated artistry of William Trevor or Graham Swift.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“As he proved with Seven Lies, Lasdun is an elegant and incisive student of the human mind—an author who can register exactly when, for a character, ‘it’s beginning to hurt.’ This remarkable collection shows what happens when we break through the gauze of everydayness and existential panic hits . . . Affecting, yes; sentimental, no. Hard-edged truths about our predicament poke through this work, which is highly recommended.” —Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal (starred review)
“This accomplished poet, novelist, and story writer’s collection packs a devastating punch. Lasdun peels back the facades of middle-aged, middle-class types through their run-ins with cancer, infidelity and loss that lead them to deal with unexpectedly large and often ugly recognitions . . . Jewels of resignation and transformative personal disaster, these stories are written so simply and cleanly that the formidable craft looks effortless.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
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The book closes with "Caterpillars," which I think was my favorite piece. It reminded me of an incident I had on the playground as a child. I got to the top of the slide and as I started to go down I saw that somebody had thrown dirt and gravel onto the bottom end. Unable to stop, I slid through them, soiling my pants. Upset, I picked up several handfuls of dirt and gravel and replaced that which I'd involuntarily wiped off. Naturally the next slider complained and it was I who got in trouble. In "Caterpillars," however, the main character is no child.
"A Bourgeois Story" was a close second. "Totty" (which is as close as this collection comes to a happy ending) and "Oh, Death" (aka The Hollow) were also up there. The rest, as other reviewers point out, are all very good, although I personally found "Cleanness" and "Cranley Meadows" to be the weakest offerings.