The Atlantic Montly Best Books of 2009The Wall Street Journal Best Fiction of 2009Library Journal Best Books of 2009Favorite Fiction of 2009 from Los Angeles TimesJames Lasdun's great fit is his instinct for the vertiginous moments when the essence of a life discloses itself. In sharply evoked settings that range from the wilds of northern Greece to the beaches of Cape Code, these intensely dramatic tales chart the metamorphoses of their characters as they fall prey to the range of human passions. As James Wood has written, "James Lasdun seems to me to be one of the secret gardens of English writing . . . When we read him we know what language is for."
"Every story is heart-poundingly vivid. Mr. Lasdun's characters live in the here and now . . . He instinctively understands human psychology, and it seems as though he can turn anything into a story."—The Wall Street Journal"A marvelous, masterful collection."—Lizzie the, Los Angeles Times"This exquisite collection of short stories illuminates teh everyday agonies of the mind, its anxieties, obsessions, doubts, and yearnings . . . Lasdun pins each observation to the page with grace and exactitude."—Benjamin Schwarz, The Atlantic Monthly"Sleek . . . There is something reminiscent of William Trevor in Lasdun's matter-of-fact rendering of the way people are haunted by the choices they make. The cool, dispassionate prose belies an underlying desperation present in Lasdun's characters to do the right things."—Time Out New York"Lasdun may be the most heralded writer you've never heard of . . . There is something classically enjoyable about Lasdun's stories."—Time Out Chicago"Spellbinding . . . James Lasdun may single-handedly save British short fiction from an untimely demise."—Taylor Antrim, The Daily Beast"If you listen, you can almost hear it ticking: the time bomb of anxiety, or delayed gratification, or fear, or deflected love, in any one of the artfully told stories in James Lasdun's latest collection, It's Beginning to Hurt . . . [These are] intimate, sometimes wryly comforting tales of tenderness and rue."—O, The Oprah Magazine"Lasdun limns the deep cracks in the soul even as his tales are enlivened by his gift for insight and ear for language. HIs stories are a fury of elements: skilled dramatic monologues; sketches of fraught emotional states; postmortems of choked lives and numbed hopes; and the literary equivalent of stares at the ruin left by a violent storm."—The Miami Herald"James Lasdun's It's Beginning to Hurt gets right to the coruscating heart of things."—The Boston Phoenix“Lasdun’s novels succeed as efficient entertainments, narrowly focused, linguistically dextrous, coolly presenting their characters’ foibles . . . His short stories relinquish none of this gamesmanship, yet they seem to expand where the novels contract . . . Their characters have a complexity and confusion that override the unfolding plot. And the narratives seem opened up to the entire history of fiction . . . Touching and revelatory . . . Devastating.”—Mark Kamine, The Times Literary Supplement (London)“Reading Lasdun is like reading a sly collaboration between Kafka and Updike: elegant, acutely observed and utterly unflinching . . . This is a collection that examines the most inward mechanisms of rage, fear and desire with astonishing skill and strangely lyric power.”—John Burnside, The Times (London)“Lasdun has a Nabokovian eye. Few exponents of the short form offer such tempting, disturbing pleasures . . . It’s Beginning to Hurt is . . . a superlative collection, exhibiting all of Lasdun’s familiar talents and a few new ones into the bargain.”—Richard T. Kelly, Financial Times (UK)“Probably the closest in recent years this country has come to a genuinely great practitioner of the short story.”—The Guardian (UK)“A story master.”—Tim Adams, The Observer (London)“[Lasdun] create[s] a world of objects and feelings that are rich, recognisable and yet elusive . . . His prose [here] is marked by a fine, thoughtful, humane exactness . . . Lasdun uses his dramatic skill to show the most subtle and delicate movements between poles of feeling.”—Tom Deveson, The Sunday Times (London)"Meticulously crafted . . . an act of delicate precision and focus . . . it's clear that Lasdun is a craftsman with keen radar for moments and gestures that resonate and reflect our humanity with understated clarity. Disguised as a collection of conventional short stories, this book will catch you off guard and lead you down pathways unforeseen."—The Rumpus“There is much to admire in Lasdun's stories, not least the astonishing beauty and precision of his imagery. In a few perfectly chosen words, Lasdun can distill a character's essence and bring him to life.”—David Bezmozgis, author of Natasha"Stellar collection combines a sharp eye for detail, subtle character development and virtuosic command of narrative voice. A British native who now lives in upstate New York, Lasdun also writes poetry, novels and screenplays, but his fourth volume of stories suggests that his strength lies in the short form. The title piece is the shortest, less than two-and-a-half pages, and functions as the prose equivalent of haiku in its evocation of an affair, a death and a marriage that is all but dead. Yet that same title could apply to practically every one of these stories, which often detail a pivotal point at which a man (usually) comes to terms with his essential character and discovers something hurtful or troubling about himself. In 'An Anxious Man' (most of the titles are far more generic than the stories themselves), an inheritance disrupts a family's equilibrium, as the wife's attempts to play the stock market during an economic downturn make the husband fearful of everything, even as he questions his judgment. 'Was it possible to change?' asks the protagonist of 'The Natural Order,' a faithful husband whose trip with an incorrigible womanizer leaves him both appalled and envious. In 'Cleanness,' a widower's marriage to a much younger woman forces his son to confront his own indelible impurities. 'A Bourgeois Story' explores 'the peculiar economy of . . . conscience,' as an unexpected reunion of college friends, one of whom has become a well-to-do lawyer while the other has turned increasingly radical, leaves the former as uncomfortable with his own life as he is with his one-time friend. Chance encounters and unlikely connections prove particularly revelatory throughout. The piece that is least like the others, 'Annals of the Honorary Secretary,' provides a mysterious parable of art that concludes, 'Like most lyric gifts, it was short-lived. On the other hand, the critical exegesis has only just begun.' Merits comparison with the understated artistry of William Trevor or Graham Swift."—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)"As he proved with Seven Lies, Lasdun is an elegant and incisive student of the human mind—an author who can register exactly when, for a character, 'it's beginning to hurt.' This remarkable collection shows what happens when we break through the gauze of everydayness and existential panic hits. In 'An Anxious Man,' for instance, a man at his beach house sweats out the stock market, then is suddenly terrified because the new next-door neighbors with whom his daughter has spent the night seem suddenly to have vanished. In 'The Natural Order,' two men—one assured and charismatic and the other reserved—hike together through Greece; it's the charming loudmouth who finally loses his cool. In 'Annals of the Honorary Secretary,' a believably surreal tale, a society that meets regularly to display special talents is upended by a young woman with the telepathic ability to make members see truly ugly and frightening things. 'Oh, Death' features a backwoods guy who lives and dies with only the narrator to wonder what his life really meant . . . Affecting, yes; sentimental, no. Hard-edged truths about our predicament poke through this work, which is highly recommended."—Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal (starred review)"This accomplished poet, novelist, and story writer's collection packs a devastating punch. Lasdun peels back the facades of middle-aged, middle-class types through their run-ins with cancer, infidelity and loss that lead them to deal with unexpectedly large and often ugly recognitions. The title story is less than three full pages, but generates near-boundless futility and regret as a businessman, having just attended the funeral of a long forgotten former lover, can't help falling back into the old habit of lying to his wife about how he's spent the day. 'The Incalculable Life Gesture' builds to a climax of relief as an elementary school principal, feuding with his sister, follows through a series of tests that indicate he has lymphoma—until a specialist reveals the truth of his ailment. In 'Peter Kahn's Third Wife,' a sales assistant in a jewelry boutique models necklaces for a wealthy wine importer who brings in a series of successive wives-to-be over the years. Jewels of resignation and transformative personal disaster, these stories are written so simply and cleanly that the formidable craft looks effortless."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
James Lasdun has published two previous collections of stories, three books of poetry, and two novels, including The Horned Man, which was a New York Times Notable Book. He was born in London and now lives in upstate New York.