Small Crimes in an Age of Abundance by Matthew Kneale

Looking at the newspaper review of this, I see a variety of interpretations including the obvious one. Nice white people turning life into shit for others, not directly intentionally, but nonetheless doing so.

But it seems to me there is a completely different way of looking at this collection of short stories. They are all about negativity and how that affects behaviour and the course of life. Whilst I’d be the first to distance myself from the delusional ‘think positive’ that has been imposed upon the American population in order to aid the dismantling of their society, at the same time, ‘think negative’ is at least as bad.

The first story sees a nice white family think the worst of the Chinese person hanging out the moment something goes wrong. They think he has stolen from him. Well, he hasn’t, the mother has simply misplaced something. But by then it’s way too late. Chinese person is dead, having been reported to the authorities by the family. If their mindset hadn’t been negative in the first place, none of this would have happened. There is, too, the negativity which sets off the trip in the first place. We don’t go on the right trips….

The last story is about a would-be Palestinian suicide bomber. Only ‘would-be’ because he wimps out, after thinking in a very negative way about what he is doing which leads to a stalled climax. He ends up in the worst place, caught, no doubt with some dreadful punishment to come, and nothing to show for it.

The lawyer who sees his life as a failure – if not for this negativity he wouldn’t have taken the bag of coke that sets him on an ultimately failed path of crime. The arms dealer who thinks he might be able to turn a leaf, but gets all negative about it. The women whose negativity translates into an affair that might ruin her family. The wealthy woman whose negativity sees her taking extremes to expose an employee she suspects of stealing…some small pantry items. The engineer whose life is defined by his negativity towards his fatness. And so on.

Any good games player knows how costly negativity is and this comes through in the book, we see the price paid on each occasion. Winners are not negative. Winners are realists with a streak of positivity. That’s so in games, and I rather think it’s so in life as well.

One critique of Kneale comments that he is acknowledged for his skill in creating ‘voices’. This collection is a time to show that off and indeed, I thought his voices were all eminently convincing.

Even if you don’t like short stories I can see why a reader might like this collection. It was hard to put down and that’s probably a particular compliment for short stories.

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