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

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Somewhere in Minnesota by Orfhlaith Foyle

Somewhere in Minnesota by Orfhlaith Foyle  (2011, 140 pages)

 An Amazing New Collection of Short Stories

from an Irish Writer

"She remembered drifters she had listened to, Americans speaking their language carefully, scholarly, as if they were in exile from somewhere else invisible yet congruent with the land she lived in; and walkers along the roads at night, zooming in and out of your headlights without looking up, too far from any town to have a real destination. "-From The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon

Frank O'Connor in his landmark work The Lonely Voice:   A Study in the Short Story  says that the most powerful short stories are often about people in what he called "submarginal groups".    By "submarginalized"  he means people that have no one to speak for them by virtue of their status in society.   He felt that the short story  at its best is deeply focused on loneliness.   

I think in Orfhlaith Foyle's brand new collection of short stories, Somewhere in Minnesota,  the submarzinalized have found a powerful hauntingly beautiful voice.    I think she understands  Pynchon's "walkers along the roads at night" and knows what it means to be "in exile from somewhere else invisible yet congruent with the land she lived in".    Foyle's voice is not that of those from a world of full sunlight.   One of the best gifts writers of short stories about the submarginlized can give us is to let is see ourselves as at least some of the time as a member of such a group.   This may seem ironic or odd at first but I think extensive reading for many years can submarginalize a person.    One can be submarginalied through seeing or knowing too much, or by a fantasy that one has done this. 

There are nineteen stories in Somewhere in Minnesota.    I really liked each one a lot but I will talk briefly about the title story, one about Madame Defarge (from A Tale of Two Cities)  and lastly a story about the last days of Katherine Mansfield.   I will try to quote enough from her stories to allow you to see for yourself if you like her prose style and I also will post a link where you can read  one of her stories.

The title story "Somewhere in Minnesota" is a woman, from Ireland I think, eating alone in a small restaurant in Duluth, Minnesota.    The waitress asks her about the bruise on her face:
I was sitting in a diner in god-knows-where in Duluth,
Minnesota during wintertime and the waitress was
concerned for me. She liked my accent and noticed my
bruised face.
She said: ‘Who’s been hurting you, sweetheart?’
I don’t like it when people use sweet language on
strangers. Sweet language belongs to lovers. But she was
kind. A little bit old with worn blonde hair, the sort that
was dying before she was and the fat had fallen in her
Hetty, the waitress, call out to John, one of the regular patrons of the bar.   John notices the mark on her face.
 "Now some men you just know they like to see hurtwomen. John stared right at me and the muscles jumpedacross his jaw and his eyes lit, before his head went backdown over the menu"
There appears to be a tie between John and Hetty, a common interest in the woman.   I got the feeling she was not the first lonely woman to stop in for a meal when John was also there.  The narrator tells us something very interesting about herself:
"When I was a little girl my mother said that I watched
people too much. I made them scared and angry, she

Somehow I was shocked even though it is not hidden from us when Hetty suggested that she and John and the woman go back to her place where they could at least give the woman a bath.   The innocent suggestion had lot of  dark erotic power.   I will leave the rest of the story untold.  Foyle makes this one small incident in a simple restaurant tell the story of the brief  once in a life time connecting point of three lives.  

If you have ever seen the movie version of Charles Dicken's A Tale of Two Cities you cannot help but to  hate the horrible old hag who stations herself at the foot of the guillotine and screams in ecstasy every time an aristocrat is executed.   "The Secret Life of Madame Defarge" is about that woman.   If you looked for a more submarginalized character than this woman you would be looking a long time.  

There will be a link to this brilliant story at the  end of my post so I will say no more on it other than to say I found it amazing.

"One Thousand Selves" is about the last few days in the life of Katherine Mansfield, a writer that I love.   The only other short story I can recall about the last days of a famous short story writer was Raymond Carver's "Errands" about Anton Chekhov's last day.   It took a brilliant writer  and one with a great deal of nerve to pull off this story and Carver did it.   I think Foyle's story about the last  days of Katherine Mansfield (in order to appreciate the story one would need to know the basics of Mansfield's life but I do not think that is an unreasonable expectation in this case) is her "Errands".   It does a good job of bringing to life Mansfield's relationships with Ida Baker and David Lawrence,  her heartbreak at the death of her brother in a WWI training exercise, her love for her husband (Foyle lets us see that Mansfield did not idolize him) and more.   We are there when she goes to meet with George Gurdjieff in the hope of finding a cure.   We are there when Mansfield dies.  Foyle also lets us look into the creative process as Mansfield writes a story.   She resists the common temptation to see Mansfield's work as climaxing in quality along with her death.

For those who can attend, Foyle will be reading from her work at the Cork International Short Story Festival (formerly the Frank O'Conner Short Story Festival on Sept 14 Cork, Ireland).  Here is her biography from the festival program:

Órfhlaith Foyle was born in Africa to Irish parents. Her first novel Belios was published by The Lilliput Press in 2005. Revenge, an anthology of her poetry and short fiction was published by Arlen House also in 2005. Her first full collection of poetry Red Riding Hood’s Dilemma was published by Arlen House in 2010 and later short-listed for the Rupert and Eithne Strong Award in 2011. Her first full collection of short stories Somewhere in Minnesota and Other Stories is to be published by Arlen House in 2011. The title story was recently published in Faber and Faber’s New Irish Short Stories; edited by Joseph O’ Connor. Órfhlaith is currently writing her second novel.

Here is a link to "The Secret Life of Madame Defarge"

There is a very interesting interview with Foyle here.

The author has her own blog here.
I will I hope feature Foyle again during Irish Short Story Week Year Two in March of next year.  
I recommend  Somewhere in Minnesota to all lovers of short stories.    There stories about vampires, lovers of the reading life, and other such types also.   

I was provided a complementary E book by the author.

Mel u


Órfhlaith Foyle said...

Hello Mel u,
Thank you for reviewing 'Somewhere in Minnesota'. It has been an privilege for me that you have read my stories and have seen them in such light.
I have always loved short stories and to write them can be frightening as well as exhilarating.To try to capture a character's mind and/or actions within the short space of some pages is always a challenge. Naturally I fail just as much as any other writer but I do know I love writing about these people that exist on the margins. I write stories about people that frighten and fascinate me.
Thank you again Mel u. 'The Reading Life' is a wonderful blog dedicated to reading and writing. My best wishes towards it and you. Órfhlaith Foyle

@parridhlantern said...

Really liking the sound of this collection & the fact the writer is a poet has my interest raised as I recently finished the debut novel by Nii Ayikwei parkes, another poet turned novelist. Add to that the idea of using Mansfields last days for a tale reminds me of Alberto Manguels Stevenson under the palms, about the last days of the writer of such works as Jekyll & hyde. So all in all this does appeal.

ds said...

I. Will. Find. This. Book. Thanks so much, mel, for this introduction to Ms. Foyle and her work (the Mansfield story sounds exactly on point)!

Group 8 said...

Great review - she is an extraordinary writer. Also seek out her novel 'Belios'.
Best wishes,

Mel u said...

Órfhlaith Foyle-It was a great pleasure and an honor to post on your book

Parrish Lantern-I think you would like this book a lot

DS-thanks for your comments and visits-this is a very good book

Women Rule Writer-thanks very much for your comment and visit-yes I will hopefully read her novel also

WordsBeyondBorders said...

//submarginal groups//
This has got me interested. Will look for the collection.

Suko said...

Mel, I'm sorry it's taken me so long to read this post! I've been out of town, and when I attempted to read this yesterday, we were hit by the power outage! Your new blog design is wonderful.

Submarginalized characters--very interesting sounding idea and work. To capture and convey loneliness in a story is no easy feat (and brings to mind a marvelous story of two deaf characters I read about recently, who relied on each other for company and solace).

Órfhlaith Foyle said...

Hello Mel u,
I just wanted to let you know that I have a website now
I have mentioned your blog there. However there has been an unexpected mash up of your blog and Parrish Lantern's. It will be corrected as soon as. I apologise to you both.