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It's Beginning to Hurt: Stories
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009
240 pp., $23.00
James Lasdun employs all sorts of characters in his enjoyable short story collection It's Beginning to Hurt. Lovable or not, they're all sympathetic, with threads of humanness we can relate to. In "The Anxious Man" (my favorite), Joseph is consumed by the Dow and NASDAQ numbers—his wife has insisted on pouring some inherited money into stocks. But it's not just the market. He wishes to have more faith that all will be well, just shy of holding any convictions himself—"convictions, he liked to joke, were for convicts." His inability to assess people correctly wears on him. On vacation in Cape Cod, he and his wife accept a drinks-and-dinner invitation from neighbors they don't know. Later, Elise, his wife, rants about how despicable "those people" were:
All this time, he realized, while he had been blithely enjoying himself, she had been assessing this couple, sitting in judgment on them, and quietly forming a verdict against them. On what grounds? He wanted to know. But as he opened his mouth to demand an explanation, he had felt once again the familiar sense of uncertainty about his own instincts.
Poor Joseph. Except we understand, because we've felt similarly.
In "The Incalculable Life Gesture," Richard Timmerman, an elementary school principal, finds a lump under his chin one morning. After some terrible anxiety, his doctor reassures him: nothing to worry about. Richard has long been brooding about his irresponsible, parasitic sister Ellen. But now, after getting this reprieve from the doctor, he feels generous and picks up the phone to tell her she can live in their dead parents' house, indefinitely. Ellen's response stuns him: "Well, that's awfully charitable of you Richard, and I'm glad you won't be trying to have me and Scott evicted from our home. But since I had no intention of leaving anyway, it doesn't really change anything, does it? Now if it's okay with you, I have to run." Richard puts the phone down, and "for a moment he felt as if he hadn't ...