In his debut short story collection, Dead Flowers (Nightwood Editions), local author Alexander Laidlaw explores complicated literary territory – that no-man’s-land between childhood and adulthood. Laidlaw’s characters balance precariously in the “pause between school and gainful employment,” trying to figure out who they are, dealing glancing blows to other young lives before finally sliding off into the larger world. Like the character Elly in his story “On Gordon Head,” who keeps pushing at the paint-sealed window of her rented basement room, trying “to believe that this time the window would swing wide open,” these characters want to grow up, but they haven’t yet discovered how to open the window. They’re looking out at life, poised within the safety of childhood where even the tragedies they see out there are only of peripheral interest. Walking home after getting drunk at a birthday party, a young man happens on a murder, but in the end it becomes no more than an interesting story to tell his girlfriend. Another young man biking slowly home late at night is called on to rescue an old lady who has fallen out of bed; what he learns from this is merely that “it’s up to people how they want to live and die. And after he decided that, he quit thinking about it.”
Laidlaw’s stories are simply constructed, and the language he has used to tell them spare and undecorated while at the same time often bordering on prose poetry. It will be interesting to see where this young writer goes next.