Collected Stories

Alan Sillitoe, Author HarperCollins Publishers $14 (0p) ISBN 978-0-00-649306-8
Taken individually, the stories in this collection are searing and dead-on. Taken collectively, they render Sillitoe's pessimism and vitriol hard to take. Whether his focus is on Britain's upper or lower classes, Sillitoe peoples his tales with bitter, streetwise, disillusioned souls who are scrappy enough to go on fighting their daily battles but too drained to realize their dreams. The young speaker of Sillitoe's most famous story, ""The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner,"" voices one of the collection's leitmotifs when he describes the local gentry as being ""dead"": though he resents the rich, the only way this juvenile delinquent knows how to succeed as an adult is as a thief. In Sillitoe's world, education offers no redemption: the main character in ""Mr. Raynor the School Teacher"" is a voyeur who engages in near-masturbatory fantasies while he lectures before a class. When Raynor learns that a girl he used to ogle was brutally murdered by her boyfriend, he never realizes that his own selfish desires and sadistic treatment of his students may have set the stage for her death. Characters often engage in fantasies, as in ""The Chiker,"" a portrait of another Peeping Tom. Perhaps due to the rigidity of England's class structure and his own apathy, the character is incapable of changing his life: he is as trapped as his pet canary. Marriage, as portrayed in ""The Magic Box"" and ""Fishing Boat Picture,"" forms another bar of the cage: in the former, infidelity and bastard children notwithstanding, a couple inexplicably remain together; in the latter, a wife's dissatisfaction with her husband's lack of affection inadvertently leads to her own emotional isolation and death. Only the strongest-hearted or most devoted fans should read all the way through. Others should dip in whenever they feel like reading the blues. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 10/02/1996
Release date: 10/01/1996
Genre: Fiction
Hardcover - 586 pages - 978-0-00-225222-5
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