Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Friday, March 27, 2020

A Snowy Night on West Forty-Ninth Street by Maeve Brennan

March 1 to March 31
A Guest Post by Elizabeth MacDonald
author of
A House of Cards

"A Snowy Night on West Forty-Ninth Street"  by Maeve Brennan 

If you are interested in participating in Irish Short Story Month, please e mail me.

I first became acquainted with the work of Elizabeth MacDonald when I read her brilliant collection of short stories, A House of Cards.  A House of  Cards  was listed for the Frank O'Connor Prize in 2007.   It is a beautiful work set mostly in the Tuscany region of Italy. 

author bio

Elizabeth MacDonald was born in Dublin, where she studied Italian and Music at UCD. In 2001 she completed the M.Phil in creative and Music at UCD. In 2001 she completed the M.Phil in creative writing at Trinity College, Dublin. She teaches English at the University of Pisa, where she lives with her husband and son. Her translations of the short stories of Liam O'Flaherty were the first in Italy. She has translated the poetry of Dermot Healy, Seamus Heaney, Brendan Kennelly, Dennis O’Driscoll, George Szirtes, Derek Mahon, and Old Irish nature poetry. She has a special interest is the poetry of Mario Luzi. Her translations have appeared in  many journals, including Modern Poetry in TranslationPoetry Ireland ReviewThe Cork Liteary Review andSoglieA House of Cards was first published by Pillar Press in 2006 and a second edition will be published by Portia Publishing later this year.
“This is a tender, understated and beautiful collection of stories that will leave you longing for more. ” Emma Walsh, The Irish Book Review.  

Today she has favored us with her thoughts on the work of another great Irish woman writer, who like herself, spent much of her life outside of Ireland, Maeve Brennan.

A Snowy Night on West Forty-Ninth Street
by Maeve Brennan
(taken from ‘The Rose Garden’)

Reading this story is like being able to enter into a painting by Hopper, one of those late night scenarios with people in their solitude etched against a background of hotel rooms or diners. The narrator opens the story with a detail, it has snowed, and then tells us where we are – Broadway. The detail is in the past tense, while the setting is in the present. This juxtaposition is maintained for the whole story, giving it an otherworldly dimension as, like the snow hovering over the city, it fluctuates between a narrated event and the universality of experience:

It snowed all night last night, and the dawn, which came not as a brightening but as a gray and silent awakening, showed the city vague and passive as a convalescent under light fields of snow that fell quickly and steadily from an expressionless heaven.

The narrator then tells us that the area where she (I’m presuming it’s a ‘she’) lives near Broadway “seems to be a gigantic storehouse of stage flats and stage props that are stacked together as economically as possible and being put to use until something more substantial can be built, something that will last.”

This sets the tone of quiet regret that permeates the story, an over-riding sense of impermanence, a solitude so immense that it reduces one to invisibility:

… there are times, looking from the window of the hotel where I live at present, on West Forty-Ninth Street, when I think that my hotel and all of us here on this street are behind the world instead of in it.

Waiting in the wings of existence. But something stirs her as she looks at the snow-covered city and she heads out to her usual restaurant, the Étoile, for dinner. She shows us the macrocosm of the city, then reduces the visual to the area around Broadway, and finally she settles us in with her to the microcosm of the almost empty, snow-bound restaurant.
There is an elderly Frenchman who comes to be able to listen to and speak French; Robert, a waiter; Leo, the Dutch bartender; Mees Katie, the French owner’s daughter; three businessmen from the suburbs, stranded in town; Michel, another foreigner, who imports foreign movies; a newcomer, the stout middle-aged Mrs. Dolan; Betty, a young woman who has moved to New York; and the shadowy, reticent narrator.
Whether the characters are there by chance or because they are regulars, none of them really knows anyone else. They move self-consciously within the restricted space of the restaurant, saying lines to each other in a vain attempt to while away some time and stave off the loneliness. None of them really seems inclined to move beyond the superficial, each in his or her own way, rebuffing more meaningful contact. The narrator remains at a remove even from this impoverished form of communication, noting with a certain approval the silence that falls between Mrs. Dolan and Betty: through it they move beyond the shame of the gaping need for company that manifests in vacuous chatter. The silence forms an intangible bond between them.
The theatrical metaphor is continued especially with Michel, who is partial to making an entrance and even more dramatic exits. He plays his part, recites his lines, while flitting between Mees Katie, Mrs. Dolan and Betty. But his most important communication is with the telephone, for business matters.
Eventually the narrator returns to her empty hotel room. And here, in the hushed darkness of a snowy night in New York, the Joycean note is becomes clear. Miss Kate and Miss Julia’s Christmas party has been given an ascetic New York setting in the Étoile with Mees Katie, and the snow “that was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly on the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves”, now falls on this city of giant skyscrapers. The narrator looks out her window at the foggy skyline, her eye passes over what is visible and invisible under the covering of snow, buildings reduced to geometric forms, the street emptied of people - everything transfigured in this shroud of snowy silence:
I pushed open the window. The cold air rushed in, but no noise. What sound there was was drugged, as though I were a hundred floors above the street instead of only eleven floors. The wind had died down, and the snow fell thickly, falling in large, calm flakes.

End of Guest Post

My great thanks to Elizabeth MacDonald for sharing her thoughts on Maeve Brennan with us.

My posts on Maeve Brennan are here

Mel u

Monday, March 23, 2020

The Cartography of Others by Catherine McNamara- 2018 - A Collection of Short Stories

My Q and A with Catherine  McNamara

“"She is older than the rocks among which she sits; like the vampire, she has been dead many times, and learned the secrets of the grave; and has been a diver in deep seas, and keeps their fallen day about her; and trafficked for strange webs with Eastern merchants, and, as Leda, was the mother of Helen of Troy, and, as Saint Anne, the mother of Mary; and all this has been to her but as the sound of lyres and flutes, and lives only in the delicacy with which it has molded the changing lineaments, and tinged the eyelids and the hands." - Walter Pater

On August 28, 2013 I posted about Catherine McNamara’s wonderful debut collection Pelt and other Stories.  Here is my overview of that collection:

“Pelt and Other Stories by Catherine McNamara, her debut collection, is a very powerful, thoroughly captivating collection of stories most of which center on the post colonial world of central coastal West Africa. The  subtlies and levels of irony in these stories show a very great insight into how cross cultural encounters impact all parties.  The people in the stories range from European hotel owners in Ghana, famous art photographers, mistresses of Europeans, drivers, and village people.   The stories are mostly but not all set in West Africa.  One is set in the very worldly city of Sydney, some in Italy.   .   The stories are miniature marvels in showing us the manifestation of orientalizing of the African not just by Europeans and Americans but by returned citizens.  The stories show us how hard it is to return home unchanged.   These stories are not about ignorant hateful prejudice.   McNamara is too knowing and intelligent for that.  They are about the very great difficulties of escaping from our deep conditioning, our unseen frames of reference.   The stories are also fun to read.  Lots of interesting things happen, there is some sex, women eyeballing each other, and a strong sense of humor.”  (There are brief descriptions of a number of her stories in my linked above post.) 

I highly recommend our Q and A session.  I just reread it and am very proud to have it on The Reading Life.

Now nearly five years later, I am delighted to have a copy of her brand new collection, The Cartography of Others.  There are twenty stories in the collection.  Posting upon, I dont see myself as a reviewer and dont like to be called one, collections of Short stories is very challenging.  One feels driven to find commonality among the works.

I intend to start my exploration of this collection by talking about three of her stories.  Every Short Story I Post upon I read at least two times.  If I dont find myself wanting to do that I dont post on it.

“Three Days in Hong Kong”

I decided to read this story as, with my wife, I have spent three days in Hong Kong, for us a fabulous place for shopping, sightseeing and scrumptious dining.  The woman at the center of this told in the second person story went to Hong Kong for a very different reason, to spend three nights with a wealthy married man, who lives there, with whom she is having an affair.  He paid her fare from London, where their affair began and has booked her into a luxury Hong Kong hotel.

As the story opens the woman is leaving  Hong Kong International to go to her hotel.  McNamara does a very good job capturing the feel of the ride in from the AirPort, kind of a surreal experience for first time visitors:

“You fly in. He says he won’t be there, there’ll be a sign with your code name.Philomena M. He likes secrets. You know he likes living between several worlds suspended in the air. He likes flight. He risks collisions. He travels way too much. There is the card with your secret name. Philomena M. The driver has pointed sideburns like Nick Cave and caramel skin pulled tight over his cheekbones. You drive onto the motorway into the night, past cheap housing blocks with scabbed facades, balconies crammed as though the life is oozing out of them. The city pulls you in, sucks you under, chucks you up, then streams around you. Chasms, rafts of lights, a Prada shop; the black numb sky and nowhere water.”

He calls the first day and says business will keep him away tonight. Disappointed, we sense the weakness of her passion for the man.  We wonder how much is her need, she is 37, childless and never married, to feel still sexually desirable mingled with a slighly buried arrousal by the idea of having sex at the ultra-chic hotel. On the second night he tells her he must be with his wife as it is their anniversary.  She begins to feel a need for sex.  On the third night he calls with another excuse.  I will leave the powerful ending untold.  In just a few pages McNamara brings a woman very much to life, does a fine job on the setting.  We see the woman does not really know her own feelings.  We know only a little about her early years, just enough to make the story even more intriguing.  She is a reader, she brought books with her and this made her more interesting.  As I read these charged lines I wondered did the man really want to see her or not:

“I cannot speak any more, my darling. Remove that dress.’ You stand naked over Hong Kong, your hands in tepees on the glass, your legs apart. Your hair falls down your back, over your breasts. It is hard to believe anyone is watching you. For him, you touch yourself. You are not very wet. The man you left used to arouse you in a moderate way that you felt was not enough. You would lie awake, your lips to his shoulder. You were so mad he never probed your body hard enough, that you made sure his efforts were in vain. You want to hug his disabled daughter. You decide that when you go back you will call him and do this. The next morning you rush to the door naked when you hear a knock. As you unlock the door you feel sweat between your hairless buttocks. Everything has been carefully waxed. Your sex is a peeled fruit. Your fingertips like to wander over the moist skin. It is a woman in a mauve uniform holding flowers. You snatch them from her. You throw them down and go to the bathroom where you look at your parts which are much more beautiful than the flowers. Then this disgusts you, the way the folds are so prominent. You love to pull a man’s cock into you.”

In just a few pages McNamara takes us deeply into two people and uses the vibrant pulsating city of Hong Kong wonderfully as background.

Return from Salt Pond 

Return from Salt Pond”, set in Ghana, opens very dramatically.  A couple, they met in London, both are from Ghana and are contemplating a move home.  On a dark road late at night someone threw a rock through the windshield of their car, striking the woman in the face, glass shreds cutting her. The man decides to take her to a friend’s  house.  Before they were attacked they were looking at a property the man wants to turn into a place for guests with a nightclub.  He needs the woman to front most of the costs.  The woman doubts their relationship will endure very long so she is resistant.  In this story McNamara shows the connection of sex and dominant behaviour, the man is a cruel predator.   Like “Three Days in Hong Kong” the male lead character cares little for the woman.  I got the feel for the scary after dark streets of Accra from this story.  McNamara is very good at setting her stories in place.  But just as I was ready to dismiss the man, we learn this and once again we are taken deep into a character and maybe a bit into our own rush to judgements:

“There had been an uninterrupted stretch of six months when his father had been dying, when every night he had come to the club from the hospital with stricken hands. Every night he had changed the old man’s soiled garments and sheets. Kenneth had a strong suspicion he would end up like him, a marooned vessel other people would have to look after and clean. He hoped he still had time to think about these things. But tonight, as he thought about the burst of shattered glass, he realised that what he wanted more than anything was a companion to see him through. He wanted a wife. And what Erica saw as a sign that they would never stay together and produce a child now made him think of orgasm, and the grappling and piercing and deliverance of sex. He wanted to explain this to her. He imagined her limber body over him and felt weak in his groin. He knew they would never make love again.”

“They Came from the East”

“They Came from the East” is a fascinating story, set in France and related to the immigrant influx changing European politics in a rightward direction.  There are five central characters, the young male living at home narrator, his parents, Peter a refugee from wars “in the east”, and Peter’s late brother Milo.  

The father took Peter in, feeling sorry for him.  His wife really did not want him in the house so the father fixed up a shed for him.  The family are professional musicians.  McNamara slowly and subtly reveals, not completely, a terrible secret I strained to understand.

“You think of young men your own age, promised safety but pushed off buses and led in single file through the woods. You think that Milo, had he been raised in Peter’s country, would have worn a uniform and slaughtered men. You are not sure how this skill is devised but you know that your brother would have given captives water, pronounced their names; absorbed duty. Shot them. You disconnect that thought, but it stays awash in you. Your father travels to Devon to see to works on your grandfather’s house. Your mother is at college teaching. Peter has long departed across the suburbs on a dawn train. You have a recital tonight outdoors; your throat is dry. You swallow honey and make herbal tea. You do not possess Milo’s exuberant organism. When Milo finally hanged himself in the park, the doctors wished to dissect his brain.”

This is a disturbing story, there is much more involved than I have mentioned.

There are seventeen other stories in The Cartography of Others.
I will post on at least seven more of the stories in July, I hope.

I highly recommend this collection to all lovers of short stories.
As I proceed on I may begin to talk of the themes of the stories.

I defer to the elegant judgement of Hilary Mantel, twice winner of The Booker Prize to close this post.

““McNamara’s work has a fierce, vital beat, her stories robust yet finelyworked, her voice striking in its confidence and originality. She writes with sensuous precision and a craft that is equally precise. This is fiction that can stand up in any company.” –Hilary Mantel

Mel u

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Signatures in Stone by Linda Lappin - Winner 2014 Daphne Du MaurierAward

Contact:  JACK ESTES                                                              FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Bomarzo Mystery by Linda Lappin
Prize-Winning Author Probes the Secrets of Italy’s Famous Monster Park

Lappin has penned an intelligent summer mystery” – Library Journal
SIGNATURES IN STONE, a compelling tale of murder, art, sex and secrets set in Bomarzo, Italy in 1928 won the distinguished Daphne du Maurier Award for excellence in mystery and suspense writing. The award is named for Daphne du Maurier, the author of REBECCA, a suspense novel with romantic and gothic overtones and a precursor to today's romantic suspense. Winners were announced at the Death by Chocolate Party hosted by the Kiss of Death Chapter at the Romance Writers of America's national conference on July 24 in San Antonio, Texas.

"I am thrilled and honored to be the recipient of the 2014  Daphne Du Maurier Award. I am a great fan of her work which influenced my own. Her gift for eerie atmosphere and tenebrous characters has been an inspiration for me." Linda Lappin

In true Daphne du Maurier tradition, author Linda Lappin infuses SIGNATURES IN STONE with romantic and gothic overtones while invoking a strong sense of place and time.
“Deftly mixing fascinating art history and murder with an exotic atmospheric setting (the Bomarzo garden actually exists), dramatic historical period (1928 fascist Italy), and fully-fleshed characters, Lappin (The Etruscan) has written a hallucinatory gothic mystery in which no one is as they appear. Daphne is a most memorable, if a bit unreliable (thanks to her opium habit), narrator. Readers looking for an intelligent summer mystery will find much to savor here.”—WildaWilliams, Library Journal

Tennessee-born novelist Linda Lappin author of the small press classic, The Etruscan, takes on the mystery of Italy’s celebrated Monster Park in her new novel SIGNATURES IN STONE. The sixteenth –century  park, located not far from Rome, created by a Roman nobleman as a memorial to his wife, leads visitors on a journey through hell represented by its eerie sculptures of ogres and mermaids. Art historians are puzzled by its meaning: is it a pagan itinerary of initiation, a surreal illustration of its patron’s weirdest nightmares, an allegory for political events, or a series of emblems concealing an alchemical formula for making gold? And who was the real mastermind behind this complex creation? Was it, perhaps, as some scholars believe, one of the greatest sculptors of the Italian Renaissance?

Lappin takes this mystery in SIGNATURES IN STONE as the background for a compelling tale of murder, sex, and secrets set in Bomarzo in 1928, when four unlikely misfits find themselves entangled in the meanders of the park. Daphne, a mystery writer with a hashish habit; Clive, an American gigolo and art forger; Nigel, an English aristocrat down at the heels; and Finestone, a fly-by-night art historian, are thrown together in a dilapidated villa looked after by two Italian servants who are not what they seem. Each character will find a private hell hidden in the park, and not everyone will make it out alive. Through the deforming mirror of the Bomarzo sculptures, Daphne will face up to the darker sides of herself while solving a murder for which she has been unjustly accused. Unraveling one mystery, she unwittingly solves another: who designed the Monster Park and why. Perfect summer reading for a plane trip or the beach, SIGNATURES IN STONEis an “intense, fast-paced, eloquently elegant mystery novel,” showing how waking life, intuition, and dreams are much more interfused than we normally admit.

I loved this novel! It's a rare balance between eerie and sense-making. Its main character is the spooky Italian landscape ofBomarzo and its Monster Garden of violent statues--which really do exist, the author tells us. But the 5 characters, including the engaging narrator, hashish-addicted Daphne, are as mysterious as the setting. Lappin's people are as dangerously compelling as her Italy. I look forward to a long, creepy series of Daphne mysteries.”  Nina Auerbach, author of Women and Demonsfive-star reviefor Amazon.

Lappin is a modern day Agatha Christie with prose that is like eating dark chocolate or sipping a glass of fine wine — the story continues to entice your senses and simply gets better and better the more you partake. Not one to hurry to the plot, she unveils the scenes piece by piece, character by character and leaves her own signatures for you to find along the way.” Vikki Walton I Love a Mystery

Lappin lures the reader into the loins of Italy, describing it with a lust for its countryside and peculiarities as one might let on about a lover,” Shaina MuganGently Read Literature.
“…Four eccentric traveling companions in an automobile to hell. SIGNATURES IN STONE is as brilliant as it is entertaining.” Thomas E. Kennedy, author of In the Company of Angels and The Copenhagen Quartet.

Linda Lappin, novelist, poet, essayist, and travel writer is the author of three award-winning novels. Her first, The Etruscan(Wynkin de Worde. 2004), a tantalizing suspense tale set in Italy in the 1920s, placed second at the New York Book Festival and was short listed for the 2011 Next Generation Indie Award. Her second, Katherine's Wish (Wordcraft of Oregon, 2008), based on the life of New Zealand writer, Katherine Mansfield, received the gold medal in historical fiction from the IPPY awards and was a finalist for the ForeWord Book of the Year Award in fiction. Signatures in Stone is her third novel. Upcoming projects include a memoir, Postcards from a Tuscan Interior, sections of which won a Solas Award fromTravelers Tales, and Genius Loci: A Writer’s Guide to Capturing the Soul of Place,a craft of writing book. She is currently at work on a new Daphne Dublanc mystery, Melusine, set in the Italian village of Bolsena, another site of Etruscan legends. She holds an MFA from the University of Iowa Writers Workshop and is a member of the Associated Writing Programs (AWP) and of the European Association for Creative Writing Programs (EACWP)

Title: Signatures in Stone 

Author: Linda Lappin 
Published by Pleasure Boat Studio

ISBN-10: 1929355904 ISBN-13: 978-1929355907 

Trade Paperback Original • $18 
250 Pages

The Reading Life extends congratulations to Linda Lappin for winning the 2014 Daphne Du Maurier Award.  It has been almost a year since I first posted on her award winning mystery novel Signatures in Stone.  I want to make sure that as many of my readers as possible know about her wonderful novel so I am sharing again  my, edited for style, observations on Signatures in Stone.

I first became acquainted with the wonderful writings of Linda Lappin when I first read her highly rated novel based on the final years of Katherine Mansfield, Katherine's Wish.  I thought she captured with amazing perspicuity the persona of Mansfield and her complex personal relationships.  I vowed to follow her career and next read her very atmospheric, some felt it was apt to describe it as Gothic, The Etruscan,  a mystery set in Italy between the world wars.  I loved it for the prose and the perfectly realized central character.  

I think Signatures in Stone is Lappin's best work to date, and that is saying a lot.  Set in the 1920s the central character, Daphne comes from Paris to overcome writers block and to clear her head from too much hash.  She arrives in Bomazo, Italy with her agent Nigel, allegedly an English aristocrat, who has been promising her an advance on the book she is supposed to be working for a while.  They  have booked part of an old run down villa.  Of course it comes with some mysterious servants. Nigel brought along his friend Clive, a sexual opportunist who ends up having an affair with Daphne, considerably older than he.  Also staying at the villa is an art expert, Dr. Firestone.  Dr. Firestone is there to direct the restoration of a garden called, "The Sacred Wood".  The heart of the story begins as we see Daphne become more and more fixated on the mysterious and sinister statues.   Italy was once seen in English literture, in the tradition of works by D. H. Lawrence and E. M. Forster among others, as an exotic almost exotic  tropical place where you could do things you might not be comfortable doing back at home.

Nobody is quite what they seem to be.  Everybody is out for everybody else, body, soul, and purse.  
Daphne loves hash and Signatures in Stone lets us see how creativity sometimes feels like a hashish dream.  

There is a murder with plenty of suspects. I was very taken up into the investigation of the crime.  

Signatures in Stone is a fascinating book, deeply evoking the mysteries in the history of the garden of stones and beyond this Tuscan history.  

I look forward to reading lots more wonderful books by Linda Lappin.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

"Great Pocklands" - A Short Story by Alison Macleod - 2019 - included in These are Our Monsters: The English Heritage Book of New Folktales, Myth and Legend - Edited by Katherine Davey with an Introduction by James Kidd

"Great Pocklands" - A Short Story by Alison Macleod - 2019 - included in These are Our Monsters: The English Heritage Book of New Folktales, Myth and Legend - Edited by Katherine Davey with an Introduction by James Kidd

‘The first true storyteller is, and will continue to be, the teller of fairy tales.’ - Walter Benjamin

Short Stories can rescue us from quarantine, allowing us to time and distance travel.

Fairy tales take us way back, before Homer, the Upanishads.  As soon as I became aware of the concept behind These are Our Monsters: The English Heritage Book of New Folktales, Myth and Legend I was bound to read the right stories refashioning English heritage.  (I also love the cover.!)

During these dark times maybe we need stories retelling old folk tales to help strengthen our spirits as we fight the monsters running the world now.

As the story opens we meet the fairies of Great Puckland, "in THE HONEYED LIGHT of late afternoon, they climb, nanometre by nanometre, from the blooms of Great Pucklands, THE HONEYED LIGHT of late afternoon, they climb, nanometre by nanometre, from the blooms of Great Pucklands, to flutter on the last of the day’s thermals. In the meadow, the air vibrates with the beating of countless wings. Izz, izz, izzzzzz. The fairies’ ring is marked by tall, dark grass too sour to tempt any cow. As the bugle flowers blow, they descend. The dance begins. They dip and leap. They link and unlink arms in reels, sequences and flights – over and under, in and out, whirr and whoosh. Poppy-dust streams. Fairy hair rises, crackling with static. Izzz, izzz, izzz. The air is a frenzy of wings. The bellflowers ring out. Foxgloves tower and teeter. Fairies couple and uncouple, their bodies sticky with pollen. Wild orchids open to long-tongued bees."

(For me this exquisite opening justified the purchase of the collection.)

Great Pucklands refers to a 12 acre meadow near the home of Charles Darwin.  It is rembered in his biography as where he recorded 142 different plants.  He and his youngest daughter loved to roam among the wildflowers. Anne Elizabeth Darwin wanted to belief in faries, in the Anglican God of her devout father and in her father, whose work was being castigated by clergy.  We feel the conflicts when she seeks spiritual reassure from her father.  Anne loved wondering the meadow with her father, she carried a jar to capture fairies.

Her father was teaching her the theories behind evolution.  Her mother 

"Her mother had explained to her that God made all the animals on the Sixth Day of Creation. She’d explained that, when the Flood came, Noah saved the animals, taking them into the Ark two by two, which was why they were still with us today, just as God had made them. She’d smiled and walked the four fingers of both hands along Annie’s legs."

Anne sought reassuring words from her father.  We see through the perceptions of Anne how fractured was the marriage of her parents.

Darwin changed how the world is seen.  He more than just a scientist, he was profoundly in touch with the development of life on earth.

"Now as they watched, he bent down – to study an ant at work or perhaps a slug not at work. The earthworms had burrowed deep in the earth because it was too hot. When he straightened, he raised his walking-stick high in a salute, and they waved back. All the while, Annie listened. Above her father, in the canopies of the lime trees, the fairies droned, like one great, mournful harmonium. She suspected they knew about his butterfly net in the cupboard under the stairs. They knew something. The longer he lingered by the lime trees, the louder the noise of their wings. Izzzz, izzzzz, izzzz."

These lines are just so deep, earth worms salute Darwin, the fairies in which he does not believe do believe in Anna and his love.

This story is just so beautiful, so much is in the pages I have not touched.

From These are Our Monsters: The English Heritage Book of New Folktales, Myth and Legend 

"Alison MacLeod’s most recent book, the short story collection All the Beloved Ghosts, was shortlisted for the Edge Hill Short Story Prize 2018 for best single-author short story collection in the UK and Ireland. It was also a finalist for Canada’s 2017 Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction and named one of the Guardian ‘Best Books of 2017’. In 2016, MacLeod was joint winner of the Eccles British Library Writer’s Award. Her most recent novel, Unexploded, was longlisted for the 2013 Man Booker Prize and serialised for BBC Radio 4. It is currently optioned for film, while her short stories are often heard on BBC radio. MacLeod is a citizen of both Canada and the UK, and is currently at work on her next novel in Brighton, her adopted city."

I plan a complete read through of the work of Alison Macleod and hope to follow her work for many years 

Friday, March 20, 2020

Overheated Heart - A Short Story by San Lin Tun. Included in Hidden Words, Hidden Worlds: Contemporary Short Stories from Myanmar - 2017 - translated from Burmese by the Author

Overheated Heart - A Short Story by San Lin Tun. Included in Hidden Words, Hidden Worlds: Contemporary Short Stories from Myanmar - 2017 - translated from Burmese by  the Author

With current state of the World, it seems unlikely we can travel to Myanmar soon.  Thanks to Hidden Words, Hidden Worlds: Contemporary Short Stories from Myanmar we can at least vicariously experience this ancient, ethnically diverse and complex culture.  Of the fourteen stories in the anthology, several are in regional of tribal languages other than the dominant Burmese.

The central character in this story is a young man. Lin Yung, who writes and teaches short stories.  When we meet him he is lonely and bored with his life.  He makes a living, not much more than that as unlike his friends he has sought wisdom not wealth.  

He is on a bus on his way to Hpa An, the third biggest city in Myanmar, center of Karin culture.  He has family there and thinks the area might give him some ideas for free lance articles. The bus ride was interesting and the depiction of the encounter with his hosts was very well done.  The food described served at the family dinner whet my appetite.

While there he teaches a class in the short story.  In the class he meets and becomes close with a young woman.  There impact upon one another is very beautifully crafted.

"San Lin Tun is a freelance Myanmar-English writer of essay, poetry, short story and novel and he has published ten books including “Reading a George Orwell Novel in a Myanmar Teashop and Other Essays” and his latest novel “An English Writer”.  His writings appeared in NAW,, Hidden Words/Hidden Worlds short story anthology, PIX, South East of Now, Asia Literary Review and Opening Up Hidden Burma. He worked as editor-in-charge of Learners’ English Educative Magazine, and a freelance contributor to Home and Services Journal and Myanmore. Currently, he is contributing his essays, and articles to Metro Yangon Section in Myanmar Times Daily” - author provided 

I look forward to reading more of the work of San Li Tun.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Self-Assembly - A Short Story by Aiden O’Reilly - From his collection Greetings,Hero - 2014

My Q and A Session with Aiden O’Reilly

The Backstory of a Book by Aiden O’Reilly

My first encounter with the work of Aiden O’Reilly was in January of 2015 when I read his 2008 Michael McLaverty Prize Winning Story,  
“To the Trade”.  I loved this story.

As the story opens the father and his son are on a scaffold on the house.  The father is doing the skilled work, the son basically is his helper, handing him needed items.  "To the Trade" is a very subtle story.  One of the several evoked topics are Irish class markers.  We see that when the son peers into one of the rooms and is impacted by the obvious femininity of the contents, elements of softness and comfort not found in his life.  We learn, without being over instructed, that his mother is gone.  

One of the characteristics of the Irish short story is the portrayal of deep but unshown on the surface feelings.   You can feel both a love and a tension between father and son.  The work is very hard and the weather is brutal.  The lady of the house tells them to come down for lunch but the father does not want to rush down as if he is a starving tradesman being fed by the lady of the manor in the back kitchen.  I felt a lot of real emotion when the father told his son to go eat while the food is hot.

While they eat the father and the woman are conversing about lamb.  The woman notices the roughness of the man's hands.  The lines below from the story shows to me how O'Reilly uses his hands for a. kind of near symphonic bringing to life of the struggles of the working class people of Ireland:

"The father reached out for another cut of bread. His thin hands were appallingly abused. The thread remains of a bandage clung to the middle finger. The skin on the sides of the knuckles was cracked in a radial pattern. Dark grey concrete stains lined the ancient cracks; one of them seeped blood, but as though welling up from a great depth. Veins and tendons interplayed on the back of his hand. The fingernails looked like worn saw teeth, or a cracked trowel. They were alive, but had the appearance of things, of abandoned tools. One nail was like a hoof — flesh and keratin intertwined to close over old wounds. Another was split in two from the quick to the fingertip, and a hard growth filled the space between. A bulbous texture like the organic growth of a tree bark over a rusty nail"

One can feel the depth of pain in these lines.  The woman offers to put a plaster on his hands but he says no need but we know it has been a very long time since anyone has shown him any tenderness.

We see in the boy a trapped young man, he hates school and his only way he sees out is to do work on the homes of the rich.  He and his father's relationship is both simple and complex.

After way to long a hiatus,I am once again posting on a work by Aiden O’Reilly, “Self-Assembly” from his highly lauded debut collection, Welcome, Hero.

I hope I am not the only happily married for a long time man, who does not go “humm” as he reads about the male narrator of the story getting a kit to build a woman 
delivered to his door, from an unknown source. 

“When he came home that day Eugene found a long box in the hallway. He dragged it into the living room. It was of a size that might contain a guitar, or some longer instrument. A white label on the lid stated: Contents: Self-assembly woman. He got out a steak knife and slit the brown tape at the edges. Inside were a number of pieces, separately wrapped. He lifted one up and picked at the wrapping. No bubble plastic, just layers and layers of pulpy paper. The object inside looked like nothing he had ever seen before. He unwrapped a few pieces and laid them out on the floor alongside the box. A few stubby tubes and bulbous shapes with snap-connectors embedded.”

 In the kit he finds the parts needed to assemble a woman.  He previously tried to put together some cabinets and failed badly.  We witness his struggle to put the parts together.  He slowly brings her to life.  She at first just stays home but soon she learns English and develops a distinct personality.  Genevieve soon is asking to meet his friends.  The meeting in a pub was a lot of fun.

As the story goes on Genevieve,they do sleep in the same bed but we don’t know if they have sex or not, begins to use emotional blackmail to get her way.  She has made a translation from robot, doll, Android to a real wife. Maybe this is what the narrator wanted all along. This is a very fine story.

There are fourteen other stories in the collection, I read and greatly enjoyed three of them so far.  In April I will post on the title story, “Greetings, Hero”.

Aiden O’Reilly’s short story collection Greetings, Hero was published by Honest Publishing UK in 2014, and launched in London and in Dublin.Aiden lived for nine years in Eastern Europe. He studied mathematics, and has worked as translator, building-site worker, IT teacher, and property magazine editor. His fiction has appeared in The Stinging Fly (x4), The Dublin Review (x3), The Irish Times, Prairie Schooner, 3am magazine, and in Unthology 4 and several other anthologies. His plays have been given staged readings at The Triskel in Cork and in Dublin. He won the biannual McLaverty Short Story Award in 2008. In 2012 he received a bursary from the Arts Council.