M Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction and Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel and post Colonial Asian Fiction are some of my Literary Interests

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Monday, March 30, 2015

"The Fairy Goose" by Liam O'Flaherty (1927)

"For some reason, it was made manifest to them that the goose was an evil spirit and not the good fairy which they had supposed her to be. Terrified of the priest's stole and breviary and of his scowling countenance, they were only too eager to attribute the goose's strange hissing and her still stranger cackle to supernatural natural forces of an evil nature. Some present even caught a faint rumble of thunder in the east and although though it was not noticed at the time, an old woman later asserted that she heard a great cackle of strange geese afar off, raised in answer to the little fairy goose's cackle."

Liam O'Flaherty (1896 to 1984) was born in Inishmore on one of the Aran Islands, off the west coast of Ireland.  His cousin was the famous Hollywood movie director  John Ford.    Like Frank O'Conner and Sean O'Faolain he was involved in the Irish War for independence against the British (largely a guerrilla war)1919 to 1921.    It was a bloody war of brother against brother in many cases.   It ended in Southern Ireland becoming an independent country with largely Protestant Northern Ireland staying under British rule.    

O'Flaherty worked for a time as a teacher until he became successful with novels like The Informer (which his cousin made into a movie) .     O'Flaherty moved the USA around 1923 to live in Hollywood so he could work with his cousin, among other reasons.   He was for a time a communist but returned to his Roman Catholic roots in latter years.  He was deeply into the reading life with a passion for French and Russian literature.    Even though much of his adult life was lived in the USA, his  writings nearly all deal with Ireland.    I first read his work during what was then Irish Short Story Week in 2011.  

"The Fairy Goose", set in rural Ireland, is just a wonderful story, I cannot imagine anyone into the form not loving it.  Compressing a bit, the story begins when an older village woman's sitting hen died and she hatches a goose egg by the firre.  The Goose is strange, never gets more than half normal size, never loses its yellow down for the white coat of an adult goose, and does not hiss at strangers.  Soon many people in the village begin to regard the goose as a fairy.  The old woman charges others to have the fairy goose cure sick cows and such and gains the reputation as a wise woman.  I want to quote a bit from the story as the prose is just so beautiful.

"That was done, and then the gosling became sacred in the village. No boy dare throw a stone at it, or pull a feather from its wing, as they were in the habit of doing with geese, in order to get masts for the pieces of cork they floated in the pond as ships. When it began to move about every house gave it dainty things. All the human beings in the village paid more respect to it than they did to one another. The little gosling had contracted a great affection for Mary Wiggins and followed her around everywhere, so that Mary Wiggins also came to have the reputation of being a woman of wisdom. Dreams were brought to her for unravelling."

Of course the local priest hears of this, a wise woman in a nearby village informed him, and he comes to denounce the Goose Fairy.  The ending is really exciting and I will leave it unspoiled.  I for sure felt I was back in Ireland in 1927, far beyond the Pale.

Mel u

Sunday, March 29, 2015

"Paddy's Feast Day" by John Duffy - An Original Short Story

My Posts on John Duffy and his prior short story

The first time I read a story by John Duffy it was during my read through of Abandoned Darlings, a collection of writings by the 2011 and 2012 MA in Creative Writing classes at the National University of Ireland at Galway. His story was about a very dangerous bus trip through the Andes in Bolivia.  You can read my post on the story here.  These words sum up how I felt about Duffy's really well done story.

You might have seen a National Geographic Channel program about the terribly dangerous road through the Andes in Bolivia that the narrator in this story crosses in a bus ride sure to scare anyone out of their wits who is not from there.   The first person speaker in this story is an Irishman out for an adventure in the wilds of South America and he happens to hook up with a beautiful and delightful sounding "French girl of Lebanese extraction".   Some cynics say the reason the English conquered India was because they could do things and have adventures there that they could never do at home.   I think that is part of the deeper theme of this very interesting marvelously cinematic story.    

Today John has very kindly, in the spirit of Irish Short Story Month, given me permission to share one of his short stories with my readers.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

My Q and A Session With John Duffy (this includes a link to my post on his story "Death Road" and his prior short story, "A Day in London" which I had the pleasure of first publishing.  

John Duffy is a short story author from Ballina, County Mayo. He holds a bachelor’s degree in English and History from NUI Galway and an MA in Writing. He has contributed to Abandoned Darlings, an anthology of fiction and poetry, The Georgia Straight and also to The Reading Life. You can visit him at 



                                                          "PaddyFeast Day"

                                                                By John Duffy



I finished my dinner before anyone else at the table and slipped out the back door. I had arranged to meet Paddy for a drink up the canal and afterward we planned to watch the parade from the bridge. I had a good feeling about the day and looked well on my way when a Massey Ferguson tractor and trailer turned in off the road and came up the drive. My father called to me from an open window,

‘Bring that turf in before you go anywhere.’


Bring the turf in before it rains. I’ll send Martin out to help you.

Turf, such a day to land with a load. The drivera hardy old buck with a round red face and big hands wore battered old clothes, a tweed hat and Wellingtons. He took a claw hammer from the cab and struck two pins at the back of the trailer. The gate opened and some sods fell on the tarmacadam. The bog man went into the house and I forked the fuel as quick as I could onto the driveway. My brother Martin filled thick plastic fertilizer bags with sods and dragged them into the shed. emptied the trailer and we brought the rest of the bags inside and cleaned up. By the time I got up town the parade was underway.

The brass band wore maroon uniforms and played their instruments to the beat. They marched inunison along Garden Street and led the parade along its routeThe weather was overcast and chilly with grey-black clouds hanging over townA troupe of Irish dancing girls in colourful Celtic dress danced along, their hard shoes tap tapping the street. An articulated lorry with an open trailer carried traditional Irish musicians. I walked past wood turners, Travellers and beekeepers then stopped at a gap in the crowd beside a man holding a child on his shoulders. A shiny new fire engine flanked by firemen in brown coats and yellow hard hats passed. They were followed by members of The Order of Malta walking beside an ambulance. A squalling shower of rain swept down and some people opened umbrellas.

I moved through the crowd and followed the parade downtown. A man on stilts dressed in a striped suit and top hat came down Tolan Street. He bent down and offered lollypops to peopleon the footpath and I wondered how he didn’t fall over altogether. At Marcello’s I opened the door and two kids pushed their way in behind me. The restaurant was busy and staff called orders back and forth. A waitress carried a tray laden with plates of food; hamburgerscurry chips and sausages. There were children at tables in green party hatgorging on food and ice-cream. A girl child kneeled at a booth gulping back Fanta orange to beat the band, she kept goinguntil it spilled out the side of the glass and down her dress. A group of young lads ran about throwing food at each other. Paddy sat in a booth at the back. His face was pale. I slipped in across from him.

Alright P, What’s going on?’ 


He took a deep breath and sighed. 

Sorry I’m late Paddy. I got held up at home.’

His shoulders twitched and he let out a gurgled belch. The vomit flowed freely and spread across the table in a pool, small pieces of carrot in the mix. I moved out quickly as his head dropped on the table.

Alright, let’s go.’

He followed me with encouragement, wobbling around tables like a bowling pin about to fall over. I opened an exit door at the back and it set off an alarm. A waitress in a white uniform peered at the table we just left.

‘I’m never touching that rotten Linden Village again.’ 

We walked through the car park and out by Harness lane. The parade had passed and people filled the space left behind on pedestrianized streets. There was litter scattered about; empty bottles, half-eaten ice-cream and balloons. Paddy looked even paler in daylight, his gaze fixed on the ground. The freckles on his face looked like tattoos and his pointy ear was wet with rain and vomit

‘Let’s go to The Hillside and see if she’ll serve us.’ 

Alright, but I’m only having the one.’                                             

The Hillside was a dark, old smoky bar on Hill StreetA few locals and a middle-aged barmaid with mousey blonde hair made up the placeNirvana, Smells like Teen Spirit played from the radio. I ordered cider and lager

‘How old are you?’  

‘Eighteen,’ I lied.  

‘I doubt it.’

I handed her a fake ID I bought from an articulate gent in Gun Town a fortnight before. It helped me past the bouncers at Thrillers at the weekend and I was optimistic about getting a drink in this kip. A blonde girl with a petite figure in a black miniskirt came to mind, blue eyes and a lace dogcollarI shifted her for half an hour at the club, strawberry lip gloss I’d never tasted before. Iwould have swallowed her whole if shed let me.

Come on to fuck Theresa, I haven’t got all day. It only comes around once a year. The glasses slipped down her nose as she studied the card. 

‘Ill serve you today but that’s it. Don’t come back tomorrow.’ 

She left the drinks on the counter and I handed her a crumpled five pound note. Paddy sat at a table by a window with faded brown curtains drawn across. I poured the cider over ice to acrackle of splitting cubes. An applause of sorts.

‘Happy Saint Patrick’s Day Paddy. It is your feast day after all.’

Sláinte Ian.’

‘No more food for the rest of the day. Do you hear me? You’ll only make yourself sick.’ 

He offered a cheeky smile and took a drinkThe colour came back to his face and he looked a little more like himself. 


This story is protected under international copyright law and cannot be republished in any format without the author's approval.

I give my great thanks to John Duffy and hope very much to one of these days post on a collection of stories or a debut novel by from him.

Mel u









Saturday, March 28, 2015

"Fever Dreams" by Clarice Lispector (1941, from The Complete Short Stories of Clarice Lispector, translated by Katrina Dodson, forthcoming August 2015)

"Lavender colors hover in space like butterflies. Slender flutes extend toward the heavens and fragile melodies burst in the air like bubbles. The rosy shapes keep sprouting from the wounded earth. All of a sudden, thundering anew. Is the Earth bearing children? The shapes dissolve in midair, scared away. Corollas wilt and colors darken. And the Earth, arms contracted in pain, splits open into fresh black fissures. A strong smell of wounded earth wafts in dense plumes of smoke. A century of Silence" from "Fever Dreams" by Clarice Lispector 

"Fever Dreams" by Clarice Lispector is a very powerful evocation of a fever driven  dream.  The dreamer is a mature man who has left his family home in northern Brazil to go to the south to write, he lived in a rooming house.  In Brazilian culture the further south you go, the deeper into the tropics, tropics of the mind not just on a map.  The dream sequence is beautifully done, we see the man perhaps conflating sexual images of a "dark" girl who took care of him with the earth herself giving birth to amazing entities. We are not sure if the man had sex with her or not, nor is he. I have not read enough Lispector yet to comment much on this but to Brazilian upper class men, as the dreamer is, darker women are seen as somehow more appropriate and willing  targets for sexual urges than lighter skinned women.   This springs back, in part, to Brazill's days as a slave culture in which the only women available to Europeans were basically slaves. 

Look for many more posts on Clarice Lispector. 

(My publication date of 1941 is a guess, if you know the date, please let me know.

From New Directions Webpage

Clarice Lispector (1920–1977) was Brazilian journalist, translator and author of fiction. Born in Western Ukraine into a Jewish family who suffered greatly during the pogroms of the Russian Civil War, she was still an infant when her family fled the disastrous post-World War I situation for Rio de Janiero. At twenty-three, she became famous for her novel, Near to the Wild Heart, and married a Brazilian diplomat. She spent much of the forties and fifties in Europe and the United States, helping soldiers in a military hospital in Naples during World War II and writing, before leaving her husband and returning to Rio in 1959. Back home, she completed several novels including The Passion According to G.H. and The Hour of the Star before her death in 1977 from ovarian cancer.

Mel u

Friday, March 27, 2015

"The Unknown Masterpiece" by Honore de Balzac (1831, A Short Story Component of The Human Comedy)

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"An Unknown Masterpiece" centers on a neophyte painter visiting the studio of a master artist.  In it are the deepest reflections I have yet found in Balzac about the nature of art.  Balzac clearly thought very deeply on theoretical questions about the nature of art.  The narrator of the story may have meant only the visual arts but I had to apply what was said to Balzac's fiction.  As I read more of and about Balzac I see a man driven at times to write as fast as he could, not just for the money he badly needed but by his inner demons.  I also see an artist of supreme talent who shaped the direction of the novel throughout the world.  

The conversations in "An Unknown Masterpiece" of the master painter show the intermingling of artistic creativity with sexuality. In Balzac's pre-camera era, painters of portraits could become super stars.  The master painter sees the portrait of a partially clad beautiful woman as seemingly almost sexually magnetic.  Pushed it seems there is a sexual element to creativity in Balzac's mind.  "The Unknown Masterpiece" very much depicts a male dominated theory of creativity.  The idea of a woman painter reacting to her work as the male painter does simply would not work.  We also have the deep rooted conflation of beautiful women with goodness.  I have talked about issues related to beauty in women as perceived by Balzac before and maybe I will again.

According to my post read research, this story influenced Picasso, Cezzane and new wave film directors in the 1930s.  

I have not yet included a mini bio of Balzac so here one is:

Honoré de Balzac (1799–1850), one of the greatest and most influential of novelists, was born in Tours and educated at the Collège de Vendôme and the Sorbonne. He began his career as a pseudonymous writer of sensational potboilers before achieving success with a historical novel, The Chouans. Balzac then conceived his great work, La Comédie humaine, an ongoing series of novels in which he set out to offer a complete picture of contemporary society and manners. Always working under an extraordinary burden of debt, Balzac wrote some eighty-five novels in the course of his last twenty years, including such masterpieces as Père GoriotEugénie GrandetLost Illusions, and Cousin Bette. In 1850, he married Eveline Hanska, a rich Polish woman with whom he had long conducted an intimate correspondence. Three months later he died. In addition to the present collection, NYRB Classics publishes a translation of Balzac’s The Unknown Masterpiece and Gambara. -from the webpage of The New York Review of Books

Mel u

Thursday, March 26, 2015

"Melmouth Reconciled" by Honore de Balzac (1835, A Short Story, A Component of The Human Comedy)

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Melmouth the Wanderer, published in 1820 by Charles Maturin (Dublin, 1782 to 1824) was a once very influential Gothic novel centering on a man who sold his soul to the devil in exchange for 150 extra  years of life.  He wandered the earth in search of someone willing to take over this pact.  Balzac considered Melmouth the Wanderer the equal of Goethe's Faust or Don Juan by Lord Byron.

"Melmouth Reconciled" is an odd kind of story with mixed elements.  Parts of it are suberb, parts formula Balzac.  Part of the story centers on a retired French army colonel.  He is an habitué of Paris street prostitues.  He is not at all a bad man.  One of the strengths of Balzac is his ability to create sympathetic and interesting  imperfect people.  My guess is that Balzac was probably well acquainted with Prostituion in Paris, and not just an observer.  One day the colonel gets tired of the risk and the crapshoot side of picking up girls on the street and sees a young girl he wishes to save from the life.

"But on the brink of the gulf of prostitution in Paris, the young girl of sixteen, beautiful and pure as the Madonna, had met with Castanier. The old dragoon was too rough and homely to make his way in society, and he was tired of tramping the boulevard at night and of the kind of conquests made there by gold. For some time past he had desired to bring a certain regularity into an irregular life. He was struck by the beauty of the poor child who had drifted by chance into his arms, and his determination to rescue her from the life of the streets was half benevolent, half selfish, as some of the thoughts of the best of men are apt to be."

He soon takes up housekeeping with the girl.  She becomes used to a comfortable life style and begins to put a serious overload on Castanier's pension.  Things get worse when she finds out he is married.  Now the storyline connects to Melmouth, who in this story is English.  He gets himself in terrible financial shape speculating on stocks and such and he meets a sinister man who offers to solve all his problems, for a slight price, of course.  He is facing prison for embezzlement so he is desperate.  I thought Balzac did a great job portraying the sinister Melmouth.

"Melmouth the Wanderer" is worth reading as a stand alone work.  It is "pure Balzac".

Mel u

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

"The Women" by William Trevor (2013 in The New Yorker, republished in The O Henry Stories 2014)

William Trevor (1928, County Cork, Ireland) is for sure one of the two, along with Alice Munro, greatest living short story writers.  I have read and posted on way to few stories by these writers, maybe because their stories need time to seep down into the depths of your consciousness.  

"The Women", first published in The New Yorker and included in The O Henry Prize Stories 2014 is an amazing story that shows the slow unraveling of an old family secret.  There are two central characters in the story, an affluent refined businessman and his daughter.  His wife left him for another man when his daughter was two and he raised her alone, with hired help.  Everything in the girl's life stays the same, she is comfortable and happy though lonely with no real companions but her father, a very good man, the household help and the tutor who home schools her.  Her father periodically takes her on nice weekends to Oxford or Csmbridge and on vacation to Paris, Venice, and Rome.  The father decides she needs regular contact with other girls so he sends her to a fine boarding school.  She hates it at first and wants to go home but in time she makes friends, settling in.  I don't want to spoil the main plot development for potential readers but it does involve a pair of very close rather odd fifty something year old women who start to come to the ice hockey games.  

The ending really makes you think about the collisions of worlds, the coincidences that can define personal histories.  The contrasting worlds of the life of the father and his daughter and the two strange women is really brilliant.

"The Women" is a simply wonderful story which I am so glad to have read.

Do you have a favorite Trevor story?

Mel u

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

"A Pinch of Salt" by Adam Szymánsky (1904, trans. by Else C. M. Benecke and Marie Busch)

"But no! those deserts, equal in extent to the half of Europe, are only the purgatory, not yet the real Siberian hell. You still find woods there, poor, thin, dwarfed woods, it is true, but where there is wood there is fire and vitality. The true hell of human torture begins beyond the line of the woods; then there is nothing but ice and snow; ice that does not even melt in the plains in summer—and in the midst of that icy desert, miserable human beings thrown upon this shore by an alien fate."

Adam Szymánsky is one of the great chroniclers of Polish life under the last years of the Russian Czars.  He was born and educated in Warsaw, studied law and classical literature.  He became active in Socialist groups and for this in 1882 he was sent to Siberia, returning to Warsaw in 1885. He is most now read for his collection of stories about his experiences while in Siberia, Siberian Sketches, in which "A Pinch of Salt" first appeared.  

There were degrees of punishment by Exile to Siberia.  Some were just taken to a town there and not allowed to leave for a proscribed period.  Some were sent to labor camps, places of terrible suffering.
The narrator of the story was just made to live in a town there.  (Part of the idea was that many exiles would end up settling in the sparsely populated region.). He and a group of fellow exiles hear a close student days friend of one of the exiles has been released from a  camp in the worst part of Siberia and is passing through their town on the way back to Warsaw. The fact that he survived exalted them and gives them hope.

"A passionate desire seized us to look upon that life out there in its unveiled nakedness, its horrible cruelty. This curiosity meant more than narrow selfishness; it had a special reason. The fact that a human being had been able to survive in that far-distant world, bore witness to the strength and resistance of the human spirit; the iron will and energy of the one doubled and steeled the strength of all the others."

 They plan a great feast in his honor, much labor and expense goes into the event with a magnificent sturgeon as the center piece of the meal.  On the big day, the man can eat none of the food.  I will leave the end untold.  "A Pinch of Salt" can be read in just a few minutes but many could probably be found in Warsaw who read it decades ago who still remember the story well.  I will seek out more work by Adam Szymánsky.

You can read this story and several other late Czarist Era Polish works by going to Manybooks.net and search on the term "Polish".  Two now in the public domain collections of translations originally published by Basil Blackwell can be downloaded for free.  This is the third work I have read from this source.

Mel u