Brian Kirk is a poet, short story writer, playwright and novelist from Dublin, Ireland. His work has appeared in the Sunday Tribune, Crannog, The Stony Thursday Book, Revival, Boyne Berries, Wordlegs and various anthologies.
I first began reading short stories by Brian Kirk in March of 2013. This will be the eighth time he has been featured on The Reading Life. Only writers for whom I have great regard, from any era, are given such treatment. (In the link to the Q and A session you can find links to his stories.) I urge anyone interested in the short story to read his Q and A session.
It's Not Me, It's You features three of Kirk's stories.
I will share enough about two of them to try to convey why I like his work so much.
That New Girl
"That New Girl" will resonate with anyone who has worked in an office with a high rate of employee turn over, especially an office in which a lot of the workers are relatively young. Whenever a new woman, they call her a girl, starts everybody wonders what she will be like. Sexual curiosity runs high. The narrator of the story, married a couple of years, sees the girl interested in Dan. He seems a bit jealous of the fact that the girls all seem to like him.
Kirk has a gift for bringing characters to life in a few sentences:
"Anyway, when I was single I was never that popular with the girls, so I can’t see how my being suddenly unavailable would affect anything either way. Sure, I enjoy a night out and used to do my best with the chat up lines when I had a few drinks inside me, but I was never a player; not the way Dan is. All the clichés you hear about women liking a bastard appear to be true in his case. For some reason this bothers me; probably because I consider myself a nice guy. Over the years that he’s been with the company Dan’s dated most of his female co-workers. Some have been one-night stands, some longer, but never for more than a month or two. I don’t mean to judge him or anything, but somehow it doesn’t seem right.
It’s always the new girls he goes for. Fresh meat, he calls them. We laugh, Sara and I, when we talk about it."
As the story progresses we see the strains the narrator's marriage is under.
Nothing shocking or flabbergasting happens in "That New Girl". It is simply a great pleasure to read the elegant prose of Kirk while maybe you think back on your days working in an office, either as a young man or as a "new girl" or you contemplate the state of your marriage.
Brian Kirk's story, I will just describe it briefly as I do not want to spoil the experience of reading it for the first time for you, is about a subject few will like to think about. Among other things, it is about what can happen to a romance when the money runs out. Robert and Helen have been living together for some time. Robert is a stock broker, the time of extreme prosperity in Ireland, called the Celtic Tiger, is winding down. There are murmurs of staff reductions at his office. He and Helen push these thoughts out of their minds.
One night they find an almost magic shawl.
"They found the shawl on the back of a chair in a bar, forgotten or discarded by its owner. It was beautiful, golden, with many coloured threads woven into it. Robert saw it first, and showed it to Helen. He imagined an elegant older woman with pale complexion and red lips wearing it, loosely thrown around her shoulders against the chill of a late summer evening. They were about to leave and, rather than hand it in to the barman as she would normally have done, Robert watched as Helen simply folded it neatly and placed it in her bag."
Soon the shawl takes on, or almost takes over their sex lives.
" When he was naked he started to undress her slowly, removing each garment methodically, not kissing or even touching her flesh yet. When she was completely naked he reached down to the floor and took up the shawl from where it lay. He coiled it like a rope and bound her two hands loosely to the wrought iron headboard.
Helen’s eyes opened in surprise as he did this, but she did not attempt to stop him. He felt a rush of excitement, a throb like a dull ache at the back of his skull, and he noticed how she smiled as she lay back on the covers, apparently surrendering herself to the exquisite otherness of restraint. Robert wasn't sure why he had done it. There was something about the shawl, and the way Helen was attracted to it, that told him it was okay. "
Soon they do not go to bed together without using the shawl in a bondage routine. Both feel much more sexually aroused than without it.
In addition to Robert and Helen we meet some of his work friends. One of the men is getting married soon and he cannot wait as he says he has found the perfect woman. Of course his mates give him a hard time about it. The good times do not last forever and relationships have their ebbs and flows. I hesitate to tell to much of the story so I won't give away more of the plot. The denouement of the story is in fact very complicated, not simple norbwill, I think, be the reaction of most people.
I urge you to read this story. "The Shawl" by Brian Kirk has a great deal to tell us about how money permeates our relationships and can be too important in determining self esteem if we have no anchor in life. It is a story to which anyone who was once riding high on what they thought was an endless wave of prosperity can directly relate. Women may wonder what they would do if the same thing happened in their relationship and men will wonder what their partner might do.
Some time ago I read in a Japanese novel (I cannot recall the name of it) that when a man loses his money, often his relationship with the woman in his life takes a down turn or ends. The man will quickly think, "OK I am broke so she left me". In fact it is often the man does not have the strength or the inner resources to live with out his money propping up his ego and he behaves in a way calculated to drive the woman away so he can then tell himself that this shows she never loved him. Of course then the woman who leaves will also wonder about her own values.
You can read this wonderful story here.
Here is the story behind this work, from Brian's website
"Last Thursday, 26th October 2019, Southword Editions published their first two Short Fiction Chapbooks: A Middle Eastern No by Jill Widner and It’s Not Me, It’s You by Brian Kirk (that’s me!).
Both publications are now available from Munster Literature Centre and Amazon. I hope both books gain many new readers and also some reviews over the coming weeks and months. I’m very proud of the three stories that appear in my chapbook and want to thank Southword Editions for doing such a great job in publishing them. I’d also like to thank the editors of the magazines and journals who published these stories originally. That New Girl was published by Steve Moran, Willesden Herald New Short Stories in November 2018; The Shawl was published by Jen Matthews in Long Story Short Literary Journal in March 2013; The Invitation was published by Valerie Sirr in Issue 7 of The Lonely Crowd in June 2017.
I’d also like to acknowledge the support I received from South Dublin County Council Arts Office by way of a bursary in 2017 when I was writing these stories. My final and particular thanks go to John Murphy who has been a first reader and a vital critical eye for me for many years and t0 Dermot Bolger who mentored me during 2018 and 2019 as I prepared my full collection of short stories for which I am now actively seeking a publisher."
I hope to follow the work of Brian Kirk for a long time.