An incredibly astute observer of human behavior, Matthew Kneale has fashioned a remarkable collection of short stories with the impact of a novel, a process set in motion by the first story, building to a tension that peaks by the final tale, a rare and stunning reading experience.
The author captures average people with the dark sides of their souls exposed, in atavistic moments of primal impulse, stripped of everyday deceits and civilized behavior. But then, it may simply be the inherent adaptability of human nature, our fragile connections, little secrets whispered in the dark. In any case, Kneale attacks these stories with impeccable charm, placing his characters within the world of mediocrity, lives lived down the middle of the road until a sudden, violent departure when control is thrown to the wind.
With each fresh story, another aspect of the culture is exposed, clashing softly in small explosions and driven to an inevitable outcome. Subtle, significant observations are driven home with fearless precision. This moral book of fictional tales is richly layered humanity at its best and worst, a collage of missed opportunities.
Kneale's titles are singular: “Stone”, “Powder”, “Weight”, “Metal”, “Sunlight” and the shocking “White”. There is a particular message in each small gem: a couple buying a villa while challenging each other’s boundaries; a vacationing English family, smug in their pretensions until faced with the brutality of survival; an upwardly-mobile couple who believe evil can be doled out in small doses.
Expect no geographic or emotional boundaries, for the human exploits in Small Crimes cover the globe, from London to South America and the Middle East to your own backyard. The stories are incandescent and revelatory, causing one to consider whether the author has spent a great deal of time studying our souls, the haves and the have-not’s, the greedy, the impoverished, the petty urgencies of acquisition that lap at the heels of civilization.
Stripped of pretensions, there is such a hunger for connection in this collection-cum-novel, for quiet in an unquiet time that it is infinitely painful to understand how quickly our souls can be bartered on the common market.
Over the years, there have been many novels that I could not put aside until I finished, but this is the first collection of stories that has so captured my imagination, brilliantly portraying the heartbreak of a world gone mad with greed, exploitation and abandonment. I am absolutely enthralled with this literate masterpiece and highly recommend this extraordinary book, an experience not to be missed.