What Becomes

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 08 August, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 08 August, 2010, 12:00am

What Becomes
by A.L. Kennedy
Vintage, HK$104

The title of A.L. Kennedy's fifth - and wonderful - short story collection is a joke on a kind of fracture: a broken heart. What becomes of the broken-hearted? In Kennedy's finely crafted and bleakly funny tales, they get broken off. Marriage makes a mockery of its title. Kennedy's taut, deteriorating sentences hollow out a relationship that seems perfect but has been emptied of real love: 'She is his wife, she is married to him - she was there in his home, in his room, in his bed in his dark and supposed to be his love.' In the title story, a lone and lonely man called Frank finds he is the only man in a cinema theatre. As the film unwinds, so does Frank, who has just left his wife after decades of unhappy marriage. Kennedy ratchets up the tension of Frank's breakdown by repeating the phrase: 'In the kitchen ...' It is not all doom and gloom. Sympathy is the unsettling comedy of a one-night stand. But, mainly, doom and gloom it is, as in the nightmarish, sleep-deprived Whole Family With Young Children Devastated. What makes Kennedy special is the intelligence dignity and courage she extracts from the despair. As Frank says in What Becomes: 'He was still human and still here.'