If It Is Your Life

James Kelman. Other Press, $15.95 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-159051-622-5

The latest collection from Booker Prize-winning Kelman (How Late It Was, How Late) is a scruffy volume of 19 stories, told in the author's trademark stream-of-consciousness, first-person style. Narratives zigzag throughout—protagonists ramble and travel the earth—yet only a handful of tales genuinely thrill. The title story, while somewhat charming, ruminates far too long on the neurosis of a college student (mostly concerning classism and sex) as he rides a bus to his hometown, and this lingering squashes any goodwill by the narrative's climax. Much better is the trifecta of "A Sour Mystery," "Man to Man," and "The Gate." In "A Sour Mystery," the adult male protagonist nervously walks with an ex-lover to a local bar. "Man to Man" finds a tavern patron ruminating on the idea of cowardice, to powerful effect. And in "The Gate," a grandfather buys a used bicycle for his grandson, only to get lost as he carries the contraption home. Men of a similar age also inhabit "The Third Man, or else the Fourth," a story wound around a group of older gents as they sit around a makeshift fire and discuss local news while waiting for a horserace. Though uneven, Kelman's collection is versatile. (July)