cover image THE ENDS OF OUR TETHERS: 13 Sorry Stories


Alasdair Gray, . . Canongate, $21 (176pp) ISBN 978-1-84195-547-6

Gray, the Scottish author of the novels Lanark and the Whitbread-winning Poor Things , among others, returns to the form he first visited in Unlikely Stories, Mostly with a collection filled with wry and mordant humor. In these 13 stories, Gray dances across many of the discontents of modern life, but lingers at the divides of gender and age. Set mainly in Glasgow during the present day, the tales—many so short they're more like sharp, eccentric sketches—feature characters and narrators who observe their world with a mixture of wistfulness and disappointment. "Big Pockets with Button Flaps" opens with a pair of teenage girls trading banter with an old man with odd, semisexual proclivities and closes with a series of reversals in situation and power. In "No Bluebeard," a man recounts his three failed marriages and the unexpected surrender that led to a successful fourth ("It is almost impossible to judge the intelligence of someone from an alien culture so I have never discovered exactly how stupid or mad Tilda is"). In "Miss Kincaid's Autumn," a brother and sister live together far more harmoniously than most married couples, while "Aiblins" centers on the frustrating interactions between an established poet and the young, half-crazed upstart who may or may not be the genius he claims to be. This is a book with a sneaky, cumulative power; the prose is as spare and provocative as the illustrations of leering demon skulls and sly young women drawn by Gray himself. (Apr.)