Eddie Stack (County Clare, Ireland) is a great story teller. His works, often set in the west of Ireland, are beautifully written and a great pleasure to read. I have previously posted on two of Stack's collections of short stories, The West: Stories from Ireland and Out of the Blue. Needless to say, I would not have read a third collection of his stories if I did not like the first two.
Eddie Stack is one of Ireland's most famous contemporary authors. He has been reviewed with great favor in the mainstream print world by publications like The New York Times, The Observer, and The San Francisco Chronicle to name just a few. The people in his stories may just be "ordinary people" but there is nothing ordinary about the Irish and Stack does a wonderful job of proving this point.
In posting on short story collections I like to look at particular stories rather than simply generalize about the collection. If I were pondering buying or reading a short story collection this is what I would prefer to read and I also think it shows more respect for the writer. I will include an official author bio and a link to Stack's webpage at the end of my post as well as some general remarks on why I like this collection so much.
"The locals were wary of Bobogue. Children whispered that she was a witch, adults said she was odd, that there was a stain in her blood. Thirty years or old or maybe more, she'd never had a job and drew Social Welfare as an unemployed poet".
As soon as I read these opening lines I already had to know what was going to happen next and Stack did not disappoint me. There is a valuable lesson in this story. Do not trifle with the affections of a witch, especially if you are married. This was a totally fun very suspenseful story. Something bad happens in this story and I loved it. It is also a story about the folly in preying sexually on those who might be a bit mentally ill!
"Bored and penniless, they were sixteen and had just finished school for the summer"
This is a very sad, very real story about the work the devil can find for idol hands. John and Marty are fishing in the woods, more because they have nothing else to do and no money to do it with than for much of another reason. One day they are shocked to see two strangers in the woods, women a bit older than them, nice looking ones for that matter. The women, Suzy and Blue introduce themselves. The boys cannot help but think of having sex with them. taking them for a ride is the slang term, Marty's heart goes wild when he sees one has on no underwear. As you might guess this story is not going to have any kind of happy ending especially when one of the boys decides to steal the poor box from the church in order to buy a ride from the women. The end is worse than we can imagine. I guess it is part of the Irish tradition of no sex without punishment!
"When Everyone in Ballyjames had Helicopters"
This teeming with crazy events and people story begins on dole day at Paddy Petty's combination post office and shop. He is in charge of giving out the dole in his area and he makes some money on dole day when people have some money. He wears three hats-government dole paymaster, post office manager and shop keeper. He is around 50, his wife left him ten years ago and he has a woman, described as an old hippie, who comes and stays with him three or so days a month. Then one day a large group of very strange looking people show up on dole day wanting to collect. Things get crazier and crazier in this story and he ends up having to call in three policeman with machine guns to keep order on dole day. This is a good story of cultural conflict and coping with change. I liked the ending a lot. It reminded me of Seamus O'Kelly's great story "The Can with the Diamond Notch".
"It Couldn't Have Happened to a Nicer Man"
"Get out of the car your pervert.."
This is another story that goes way below the surface of its characters. I do not want to say much at all about this story as I do not want to spoil it for first time readers. A rather manly quite large and physically imposing woman joins the local police force, moving from out of town. She meets a woman there and starts a relationship with her. Nothing is ever overtly said but it is clear the policewoman has romantic feelings for the other woman, who may not see the signs. They eat together some nights at a local hotel where the other woman invites her friend, an older confirmed bachelor and a local farmer whose avocation and passion is growing orchids to join them. Things get strange and then it seems to be ready to end ugly. I liked this story a lot for its ability to get below the stereotypes of life in small towns in the west of Ireland.
"He'll never stop drinking now. Do you think he will? I don't, he's too old to stop, he's 72."
This is a really well done story told from the point of view of a woman married to a man who drinks way to much. She goes on and on about how most women would have left him long ago but she believes in marriage. As the story goes on I was thinking what a lucky man he is to have such a loyal wife then the ending seemed to want to pull the rug out from under me. I had to rethink all of my perceptions about the wife. This story is a most enjoyable very intelligent read, like all of Stack's work I have read.
"It was well past closing time and the pub was crowded, dark, and steamy"
Lots of drinking in the Irish short story, way more than in short stories from Indian or the Philippines. Per my brief Google research, the Irish rank way up their in per capita drinking. Just like it sounds, this really fun story is set in a pub where everybody knows everybody and anybody who is not there is going to get their reputation trashed. The story is told as time passes in the pub and things get more and more intense as the night goes on. This is just a flat out pleasure to read and captures the speech of the people in the pub wonderfully.
There are five other excellent stories in this collection. I recommend it to anyone who likes a good story, especially one set in the west of Ireland. Stack's stories are a delight to read, wonderfully written and have a strong insight into the human condition