All the Rage was named to the shortlist of 'Best Short Story Collection 2014' by The Frank O'Connor Prize.
A.L. Kennedy, the author of The Blue Book and Day, writes like a force of nature. Claire Messud says she’s “one of Britain’s most iconoclastic and fiercely independent talents.” Richard Ford calls her “a profound writer,” and Ali Smith dubbed her “the laureate of good hurt.”
All the Rage is Kennedy’s riveting new collection, a luscious feast of language that encompasses real estate and forlorn pets, adolescents and sixtysomethings, weekly liaisons and obsessive affairs, “certain types of threat and the odder edges of sweet things.” The women and men in these dozen stories search for love, solace, and a clear glimpse of what their lives have become. Anything can set them off thinking—the sad homogeneity of hotel breakfasts, a sex shop operated under Canadian values (whatever those are), an army of joggers dressed as Santa. With her boundless empathy and gift for the perfect phrase, Kennedy makes us care about each of her characters. In “Takes You Home,” a man’s attempt to sell his flat becomes a journey to the interior, by turns comic and harrowing. And “Late in Life” deftly evokes an intergenerational love affair free of the usual clichés, the younger partner asking the older, “What should I wear at your funeral?”
Alive with memory, humor, and longing, All the Rage is A.L. Kennedy at her inimitable best.
May 2014 Best Book of the Month by Amazon in the Literature & Fiction category
|Publisher:||Houghton Mifflin Harcourt|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.10(d)|
About the Author
A.L. Kennedy is the author of The Blue Book, What Becomes, and several other novels and collections. Twice named one of Granta's Best Young British Novelists, Kennedy won the Costa Book of the Year Award for Day. She lives in London.
Read an Excerpt
Later in Life
‘Eating figs is different for girls.’ She says this because she is being sexy for him to pass their time: standing in a queue and over-gently, over-carefully setting her lips to the fig, destroying it in an affectionate way. The round blush and kiss of the skin, the neat, small burden in her hand: she’s aware it all makes for a less subtle show than he generally likes, but he’s watching, he is now-and-then watching. And he gives her the quiet rise of what would be a smile if he allowed it. She knows this because she knows him and his habits and the way the colour in his eyes can deepen when he’s glad, can be nearly purple with feeling glad when nothing else about him shows a heat of any kind.
He’s quite frequently secretive. They have decided to like this about him. His love of hiding has nothing to do with her and should not be a worry – it dates from much earlier situations which were unpleasant. They agree that his varieties of absence are okay and usually endearing.
He nudges against her side, ‘Shush.’ This is a suggestion that she should hide, too.
She keeps on, though. ‘There’s one left, if you want.’ This morning she’ll be obvious for him and minutely brave. She will undermine the calm of their nearest building-society branch with an outbreak of sex, or something not unlike it. ‘Do you want?’ What she wants is for other people to overhear her. Anyone, she feels safe to assume, can need the comfort of witnesses sometimes and to be remembered, on the record. ‘I bought two.’ At the moment, she would appreciate some comfort.
‘Of course. You would.’ His mouth flinching into happiness and then back. ‘They’re better in pairs. At least, we’d hope so.’
She bites. This doesn’t honestly feel intimate any longer, only both interesting and wrong. If she were being accurate inside her little display, then she would simply warm and hold and be very kind to the figs. They would come to no harm. She would dote upon each of them in detail.
Instead, she is biting, eating.
Which may not seem arousing at all.
Maybe, from his point of view, she’s acting out a threat. Not that he doesn’t enjoy certain types of threat and the odder edges of sweet things. She has found she enjoys them with him – it’s not that she has to pretend.
He nudges again, ‘You couldn’t have bought me an apple . . .?’
‘You didn’t ask.’
‘I like apples.’
‘I couldn’t give you an apple – woman inflicts apple on her partner – it would be religious. Like a moral assault.’
They don’t assault, not ever. That’s a promise.
He nods solemnly, ‘Leading me astray again.’
As a couple, they are purely soft – hard ideas, but tender application. Hardness was before, in all the years before they met, and they have declared an end to it.
‘We should get a garden.’ He stares past her and on into where he intends they should finally be. ‘Then we’ll grow apples. Figs, if you’d like. If the weather will allow. How about that?’ With a brief touch to her neck, an enquiring contact.
It is not an impossible hope: they could soon plant a garden and shape it to be only theirs. After today – or before 5 p.m. tomorrow at the latest – she will have paid off her mortgage. Or rather, he will have paid off her mortgage, because he’s not short of cash and had paid off his own decades ago, both of these circumstances slightly having to do with his age. Once they have sold her flat and his, they will move in together, more together than they currently are. They will buy – to be accurate, he will probably buy – a big new bed and sheets and everything fresh. They have planned this, pondered thread-counts and headboards, and they are sure they will sleep very beautifully once their requirements have been fulfilled. And they will also be there with each other and stay attractively awake. This means that when she reaches the head of the queue, she will be, in a way, receiving money for sexual reasons from an older man.
Hence the figs.
The money-for-sex thing feels mildly electric in the soles of her feet. She grins.
‘What?’ He kisses the top of her head. ‘Why’s the girl smiling? Or shouldn’t I ask.’ But he wants it out loud, she can tell: a further demonstration for the queue – here’s love, here’s being desired and desiring, here’s assured love. Something else they share: a need to be as real as observers make them. When she hugs his arm, she can feel it tensing with his usual interior argument – that he’d like to be the unnoticed man, the invisible boy who is shy – that he’d like to burn and be uncovered and holding and licking where they stand, outrageous evidence. ‘Shouldn’t I ask?’
‘You should always ask.’ Still, she isn’t absolutely clear what she should answer. ‘My boy should always ask.’ This quiet and for him, no one else.
She doesn’t believe that when he chooses to be overt he’s making a statement against decay: bridge in his top teeth, glasses, greying hair – greyed, to be truthful – thin at the crown. He’s not any more needy than she is, she completely believes that and has said so.
‘Then tell me why you’re happy?’ Shining with the answers he expects and with being content, a young kind of content.
The truth would be complicated, so she tells him, ‘I was just thinking – what if there was a hold-up, robbers, guns?’ And for a moment she has made him disappointed.
But then fully, plainly, he permits himself to be delighted. ‘If there were guns I would save you.’ There is no way to overestimate how fond he is of saving, of the thought that he will do her good.
So, once again, she’s vindicated: she doesn’t ever lie to him unless it’s for the best.
Under her hand, his elbow twitches with a dream of motion. ‘I’d have to rush in and defend you from the bullets – stand in their way.’
‘No. I’d take a bullet for you.’ This is a whole, uncomplicated truth. She would be murdered for his sake, if necessary.
‘No, no.’ He kisses this close beside her, nuzzles against their rush to be dead for each other. ‘I’d be compelled to do the gentlemanly thing and lay down my life. It would be instinctive. Men of my generation can’t help it. I would have to be terribly harmed and then expire.’
‘In my arms?’
‘Well, that would depend. If I was flinging myself at a gunman in a hail of hot lead I might not also be able to fall back and rest my head upon your shoulder.’
‘I’d be too poorly.’ A dark and nice flicker in his look.
‘All right. Breast.’ Saying this with enough focus to make himself swallow, pause. ‘And if I failed to reach you, I would fail nobly and you would be impressed and you’d . . . then you’d probably – I don’t know – you could lever me into position before I kicked off . . .’
They do this a lot: imagining dreadful scenarios. It is a kind of inoculation against the future. She makes sure she doesn’t think of blood seeping through her blouse, or of the precise shape, warm and clever shape, the kind shape of his head, and how things would be if he wasn’t breathing and his lips were still.
‘What should I wear at your funeral?’
‘Velvet. Vermilion. No. Crimson. If you wouldn’t mind.’
‘That’s the same thing.’
‘Not at all. Crimson’s more blue and vermilion’s more orange. I think . . . And crimson’s spelled differently – it has a “c” in it. Like all the good things.’
‘Vermilion Velvet sounds better.’
‘Well, you’re not wrong . . . I shall leave it up to you.’
Table of Contents
Late in Life 1
Baby Blue 15
Because It’s a Wednesday 35
These Small Pieces 47
The Practice of Mercy 59
All the Rage 85
Takes You Home 133
The Effects of Good Government on the City 151
Run Catch Run 171
A Thing Unheard-of 187
This Man 199