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What Becomes

3.54  ·  Rating details ·  235 ratings  ·  44 reviews
Always attuned to the moment of epiphany, these 12 stories are profound, intimate observations of men and women whose lives ache with possibility. Each story is a dramatisation of the instant in a life that exposes it all: love and the lack of love, hope and the lack of hope.
Hardcover, 224 pages
Published August 1st 2009 by Jonathan Cape (first published January 1st 2009)
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Oct 09, 2009 rated it it was amazing
..... of the broken hearted? Who had love that's now departed. And that is the theme of A.L. Kennedy's latest collection of short stories. Bleak, perhaps. But then you don't read A.L. Kennedy unless you can take her unflinching, precise, unsettling, razor sharp dissection of the pain that makes us human. This is not the sort of writing to sink into like a comfy old sofa, it is more like skeetering across ice, never quite knowing when you'll be plunged into the freezing abyss below, it's writing ...more
Dec 15, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Wonderful stories that have darkness lurking around the edges. Kennedy gives you little clues throughout that build up to quiet but sharp intakes of breath. These are small mysteries, just without the tropes. She's incredibly versatile; "Sympathy" is written entirely as dialogue, and somehow manages to be more erotic than the entire "erotic memoir" I just read. The title story is a stunner. But honestly, every story in the book is great in its own way. She's a rare writer with a distinctive voic ...more
May 21, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
"Proximal phalanx, left ring finger, a gash that almost woke the bone" (7).
"Frank decided that he would like to be both demanding and unreasonable. If he wasn't the man he had been, then surely he ought to be able to pick the man he would be" (12).
“It’s the thought that counts.
“But people like thoughts demonstrated” (40).
“I wasn’t entirely stupid. Only happy.
“Which is beyond stupidity, beyond any capacity for thought” (44).
“ ‘We are not all connected. We are bags of skin. We are all separate bag
Words that are not apt descriptors of this book: glorious, extraordinary, razor-sharp, insightful, brilliant, dazzling, inventive. Inventive, maybe, if before reading this you have read trade paperbacks exclusively. Realism as a literary shtick (and it is a shtick, please and thank you, the shtick of no-style is a big sticky shtick) is so often so painfully limited re: reality. Unless you happen to truly be glorious, extraordinary, razor-sharp, insightful, brilliant, dazzling and inventive, AKA ...more
Jan 21, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: short-stories
Some good stories, especially "As God made us" about war veterans, and there was some humour, but overall too depressing to be engaging,
Apr 29, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: scottish
Move along now people. Move along. Nothing to see here. Just keep moving, now. Nothing to see. Move along now.
Andreas Steppan
Jun 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Todtraurige Geschichten, so erzählt, dass es richtig in die Magengrube geht. Aber A.L. Kennedy verfügt auch über einen staubtrockenen Humor. Leiden und Lachen ganz dicht beieinander. Wunderbar.
Sep 10, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: book-group-reads
I tried and failed with this one - too high brow for me I think!
Pamela Scott
I’m a fan of A.L Kennedy. I’ve really enjoyed some of her work. I wasn’t impressed with Day but still, she’s on my list of authors’ I’d happily read.

But this story collection didn’t work for me. Sorry.

Some stories are okay, some are quite good but others just didn’t connect.

I enjoyed What Becomes, Marriage and Story of My Life. The others made me feel indifference. I didn’t feel a connection to the characters or anything that was happening to them. I just felt – bleugh!

I love stories that speak
Sara Aye Moung
Feb 18, 2018 rated it it was ok
I read this as it was on a pre-reading list for a creative writing course. Objectively I can admire the prose and writing but I have always struggled with the short story format. And these stories are bleak. So if you enjoy short stories then this is for you but afraid not for me
Feb 08, 2011 rated it liked it
I feel mean about AL Kennedy, because I started her novel 'Day' last Christmas (2009) and wasn't really getting into it, though thought I might later, but one of my presents was 'Hard Rain Falling' and I wanted to read that and abandoned 'Day'. Then I lost it ('Day'), and still can't find it. I will read it.. meanwhile I'll read these stories.

I'm not sure why but it took me a while to get into this book, the first few stories (Saturday Teatime, Marriage) I read I appreciated for their dialogue a
Aug 17, 2009 rated it it was amazing
After Indelible Acts, Kennedy’s collection from 2002 and her first one, with that long title starting with Night Geometry, this new one, What Becomes, continues her inimical style of writing. She doesn’t subscribe to the type of writing which is taught in most writing schools or classes: simple, to the point, edited to the essentials only, almost to the bare essentials, no superfluous words - in short, very American.

No one could ever teach Kennedy’s style of writing, not even Kennedy herself. I
Ernest Junius
I'm not sure I like it. The work is very reminiscing, in flow and style. I think of it more like a ramble. A collection of rambling with a series of really angry curses. The problem is I just don't care enough. Mostly the stories are about rusted married couples, husbands and wives in affairs, and broken family sort of stuff. People have been saying that the stories have sharp insights about them, has deep sentiments and snappy words. I don't know, I seriously can't bring myself to care.

I think
May 02, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm not typically a fan of short stories, and it usually takes me a long time to get through a collection of them (as is illustrated by the fact that I have been "currently reading" Children Playing Before a Statue of Hercules for probably about a year now), but I read straight through this book of stories in a day. I started reading Kennedy's novel Day in February after I was being continually asked by a friend if I had read it yet--I put it down when I had to start doing lots of other reading ...more
Jun 20, 2009 rated it really liked it
A.L. Kennedy is one of Scotland’s greatest contemporary writers who, over the last twenty years, has produced a body of work spanning novels, short stories, non-fiction, screenplays, and more. In recent years she’s been a regular feature in comedy clubs, something which polarised opinion at the start, and since 2007 her stock has risen with a string of prizes and awards, including the Best Book at the Costa Awards (for fifth novel, Day) and the Austrian State Prize for Literary Fiction, putting ...more
Feb 15, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: short-stories
I am a devotee of the short story form (I learned at the feet of St. Flannery O'Connor, after all), but in truth, I have a hard time tracking down contemporary story collections that really make an impact on me. Every story in this collection, though, left me deeply impressed. In a way, it's everything I had hoped the Deborah Eisenberg collection I recently finished might be-- a collection of stories about relationships (most of them unraveling-- violently so, in some instances) that captures, w ...more
Jul 06, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
My Mum gave me this for one of my birthdays a while back and it joined my ever growing selection of 'books to read'. When visiting me recently, Mum was browsing my bookshelves (its practically the first thing she does before even unpacking, its how we reconnect with each other) and she saw this and asked me if I'd read it yet. Not yet. She replied 'Hmm its not very good, really not very good at all'. Ok well cheers then Mum for the great gift.

And then this immediately bumped it up the list and
Jul 19, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
These stories are stark and hardly concern what one would typically think of as upbeat subjects (e.g., grief, obsessive thoughts, spouse abuse, and battle wounds and disabilities). But the language is so precise, so powerful that in only about 9 pages, Kennedy can effectively convey how a husband who beats his wife not only learns shame and remorse for his actions but comes to acknowledge the devastating effect that his repeated abuse has had on his wife. The language also never pulls its punche ...more
Feb 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: books-i-ve-loved
This is one of the finest short story collections I've ever come across. A. L. Kennedy is the rarest of writers - someone with complete command of every facet of short fiction - finely-honed sentences, fully realized characters with their own voices, and enough skin in the game to make the stories jump.

The stories themselves range from laugh-out-loud humor to tremendously dark work, with the emphasis on the latter. There's a lot of damage in her work, of people using one another but not in a wa
Jan 18, 2011 rated it really liked it
I really liked this book of short stories. Kennedy writes good one after good one; my favorite was "Another," I think. She is great at describing really surprising and often rather shocking situations but then making the emotions beneath the surface of those situations far more interesting than the situations themselves. Why am I not giving this book a 5-star rating? Hmmm. I guess it's because I never felt really knocked over by any one insight. Maybe that's not fair, but that's how I'm leaving ...more
James Haliburton
Each snapshot of a life in this collection is prime Kennedy - the humour is black, first impressions are turned on their heads and the reader is left to fathom out exactly what s/he has just read. Short episodes are viewed through the microscope of her prose revealing everyday cruelties, disappointments and snatches of joy. Within a few short pages Kennedy's characters connect and intrigue. Like life itself these fragments are constantly surprising, loose ends are never tied up and no matter how ...more
Nov 02, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A strange, beautiful collection. Imagine Dorothy Parker's dialogue-heavy short stories. Now make them even more chaotic, bewildering, depressing, and sardonic. If I could pick out one snippet of dialogue that seems emblematic of this whole book, I'd choose this exchange between two strangers from "Sympathy":

"I love you."
"No you don't."
"But I want to say I do."

These characters are all-too-aware of their neuroses, and they wrap clichés about them like raiment, hoping it'll make them appear normal.
After a disappointing first attempt at an ALK book (see review of So I Am Glad), this really changed my mind. Every short story gets right to the core of the subject, often making you squirm with discomfort as their interior monologues gradually reveal who they are, or are not. This really hit the mark for me; taut, spare sentences creating the beautifully disturbed worlds inside the heads of everyday people. Not always a comfortable read but ultimately rewarding.
Sep 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Großartige Erzählungen mit einer umwerfend brutal direkten "Schreibe" sind. Mein Freund sagte bei kleinen Zitaten aus dem Werk: "Oha, die Frau hat es faustdick hinter den Ohren. Explicit language!"
Das Buch ist jedenfalls nichts für zartbesaitete Menschen, die gern "schön umschriebenes" lesen mögen. Das gibt es bei A.L. Kennedy nicht.
Jan 13, 2013 rated it it was ok
A collection of 12 short stories. I'm not a fan of short story collections, they never seem to live up to the hype on the jacket cover, and this set is no exception. Overly descriptive character observations and little substance. As short stories I found them a bit boring. On the whole disappointing.
Oct 24, 2010 marked it as to-read
Another library book, which I've renewed once. I read her blog in the Guardian once in a while, and saw her in a panel discussion at the Vancouver International Writers Festival a couple of years ago. Some of her stories are devastating in their emotional impact. And then she's funny too.

Update -- had to take it back to the library before I finished. I'll get it again later.
Sep 06, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I think A.L. Kennedy is one of the best short story writers around and I thoroughly enjoyed this collection. Though at times the characters and their situations are bleak (such is life?)her meaty stories are also full of dark humour. If you liked this - look out for her book "On Bullfighting", not fiction but a gripping look at a "sport" that has hypnotised authors of the past.
Kasa Cotugno
Each story in this collection is a reflection of an issue of today. Kennedy manages to isolate moments in time relevant to current situations and makes universal the dilemmas of coping with problems that are both individual and societal.
Kasey Jueds
Mar 20, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am also a big A.L. Kennedy fan. Some of these stories (very dark and subtle and strange and often sad) moved me incredibly; a few of them I somehow couldn't connect with. But overall I still adore her work, and still feel she's like no one else.
Dec 08, 2010 rated it really liked it
Highly recommended for fans of Kmart Realism and Raymond Carver. Though this doesn't exactly fit with the minimalists, the prose much more lyrical, this does share thematic similarities.
Really great collection of short stories, quite moving.
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Alison Louise Kennedy is a Scottish writer of novels, short stories and non-fiction. She is known for a characteristically dark tone, a blending of realism and fantasy, and for her serious approach to her work. She occasionally contributes columns and reviews to UK and European newspapers including the fictional diary of her pet parrot named Charlie.
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“We are not all connected. We are bags of skin. We are all separate bags of thinking skin.” 5 likes
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