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Small Crimes in an Age of Abundance    by Matthew Kneale order for
Small Crimes in an Age of Abundance
by Matthew Kneale
Order:  USA  Can
Nan A. Talese, 2005 (2005)

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* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

Matthew Kneale previously won the Whitbread Book of the Year award for English Passengers. In Small Crimes in an Age of Abundance, he takes readers through twelve stories, from England to Ethiopia, from Colombia to the Middle East. He shows conventional people attempting to live appropriately, but at times missing the mark, and settling for passiveness and complacency.

In Stones, Guy and Chloe Winter, and their children decide to vacation in China, with a side trip to Hong Kong. They board a train for Guangfaochu, but arrive to find it is the wrong place - there are two with that name. Making the best of it, they book an overnight in a questionable hotel, while a man they dub Eeyore appoints himself as their helper. When Chloe discovers jewelry missing from their hotel room, they report the theft to the police - the authorities accuse Eeyore. Though Chloe later finds the jewelry in a compartment of her backpack, the Winters are unable to influence the events they precipitated. In Powder we meet solicitor Peter Pelham, bored by his life and stagnating in his job. On an evening walk, he witnesses a man being chased by the authorities. Peter hears a phone ringing, discovers a cell in a bag under the bench, and answers it. He's soon involved in product deliveries, with high payments for small bags of white powder. We see what ensues when the children arrive home from college for the summer. As the story ends, Peter says, 'Peter Pelham was somebody.'

Overweight geologist Benny Gregg stars in Weight. Benny accepted a post in Xinjiang to forget about the wives who walked out on him. On a bus tour of the 'Silk Road', he is infatuated with the dark-haired, dark-eyed beauty at the registration desk of the Sanchakou hotel. What a prize for a man like him, thinks Benny, who leaves the tour group, stays at the hotel, courts and marries Mina. His wedded bliss comes with conditions - a cash payment, and promises to help get Mina's family to the States. The couple settles in Dallas, Texas, where Benny becomes self-absorbed with possessiveness and jealousy as others look admiringly at his new wife. Metal is a dramatic story of Toby Chisholm who journeys to Africa. The taxi transporting him smashes into a tree, after coming upon a frenzy of demonstrators clashing with police. As Toby pulls the driver out of the cab, the protestors turn in his direction. When he approaches the police for assistance, an officer pummels him and the taxi driver. As Toby drags the driver to safer ground, slum dwellers offer aid. Learning that he is from Britain, they ask, 'Please can you tell people in your country about the bad things that happen here?' Tony arrives home feeling different ... but does he really change?

White is the suspenseful report of suicide bomber Yuris heading for Tel Aviv. Hussein straps an explosive mechanism to Yuris's chest, telling him, 'Today you are doing something beautiful ... you will make history.' Yuris plans his demise and to take as many as possible of them with him. As he walks into the city, he recalls a phone call from his brother Zayid asking Yuris to join him in Canada - 'You have to get out of there ... you can have a real life, with a future to look at and nothing to poison your soul.' Matthew Kneale writes the human drama with intensity and compassion. Decisions made in his stories often bring dire consequences. Some actions are passive and indecisive, some hurtful and harmful, affecting family and personal lives. The fine writing in Small Crimes in an Age of Abundance lingers in the reader's mind.

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