The Ends of Our Tethers by Alasdair Gray

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book:  The Ends of Our Tethers: 13 Sorry Stories

Author:  Alasdair Gray

Type of Book: Fiction, literary fiction, short story collection

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd:  Because it got under my skin.  That in and of itself may not indicate oddness as normal books get under my skin from time to time but the magnificent story in the collection about a skin disease and the emotional and aesthetic satisfaction people get from peeling off scabs and bits of skin showed me this was no normal book.

Availability: Published by Cannongate Books in 2003, you can get a copy here:

Comments:  About a year ago, a reader on this site sent me an e-mail praising me, telling me I reminded him of Elizabeth Young.  I was unfamiliar with her and found an article about her on Dennis Cooper’s blog.  Though I can see some superficial similarities – we both read difficult and transgressive writers – it’s hard to say there is really much I have in common with the late Ms Young.  She seemed more learned and certainly more serious than me, and I can’t see her having the patience for the conspiracy theory that I so often find enthralling.  But even though my fan clearly sees me in a different light than I see myself, the Google search did me some good.  It reminded me I needed to read and discuss Dennis Cooper over here and am sort of surprised I have not already.  It also led me to Alasdair Gray.

You see, while our approaches to The Word are different, Young and I have very similar tastes in fiction.  Almost every woman I know wants to smack me in the face for loving A.M Homes’ The End of Alice, a book Young championed.  Reading that she loved Nelson Algren sent a strange shiver up my spine – like Burroughs, I want to read him sober but I am almost afraid to do it, and, again, I can count on one hand the number of people I know who even know of him.   The list of the writers Young championed was a list I recognized as part of my reading habits, with one sole exception: Alasdair Gray.  I once had a copy of Gray’s Poor Things but I never read it and I could not find it after reading Cooper’s article about Young. So I ordered a couple of his books.

It was book love.  In the middle of the first story in this collection, I fell into book love.  I cannot believe I went this long without reading Alasdair Gray.  I almost hate myself for it.

Some of the stories are sketches, like the first in the collection, the story of a man who encounters some tough youths and bests them as they try to manipulate him.  But some are longer-form, traditional stories.  Because I could very easily crank out 10,000 words about this 181 page collection, I will limit myself to my two favorite stories.