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

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Shauna Gilligan's Thoughts on Orfhlaith Foyle's short story collection Somewhere in Minnesota

Guest Post by Shauna Gilligan

Irish Short Story Week Year Two
March 12 to March 31

Today we are very lucky to have as our Guest Poster, Shauna Gilligan, a very well regarded writer of short stories.  

Born in Dublin, Ireland, Shauna has worked and lived in Mexico, Spain, India and the UK. She holds an MA in History from University College Dublin having also studied English as an undergraduate. She is completing a PhD in Writing at the University of Glamorgan, Wales and occasionally lectures in NUI Maynooth in Creative Writing.
As part of her research, she is examining suicide and writing processes in a selection of novels by and in a series of interviews with Irish writer Desmond Hogan.
Her work has been published in The Cobalt ReviewThe Stinging Fly (online), The First Cut, New Writing: The International Journal for the Practice and Theory of Creative Writingand in The Ulster Tatler’s Literary Miscellany. She has given public readings of her fiction in Ireland and USA and has presented on writing at academic conferences in Ireland, UK, Germany and USA.
She has kindly posted links to several of her stories on her web page and I will include a links at the close of the Guest Post.
Shauna Gilligan's Guest Post On
Orfhlaith Foyle's short story collection Somewhere in Minnesota
Despite numerous critically acclaimed publications, I only came across Órfhlaith Foyle at the launch of her debut short story collection Somewhere in Minnesota (Arlen House) in the Irish Writers Centre recently. At the launch, she read an extract from the title story and when I returned to finish reading it that evening, the magnetism of the main character stayed with me, especially the disturbing twist at the end.

Foyle’s laconic worldview, evident in the fragments of details, which the narrator slowly builds, reveals the core of those who populate her stories and the connections between them. Take this paragraph from “Somewhere in Minnesota” where the tension builds up through the descriptions of physical minutiae:

I kept on eating. Hetty got impatient. She sucked her tongue against her teeth and hummed. John was waiting for me to say something. I stared at his face. This close he looked old and too soft, the sort of softness that I didn’t want to touch. I thought of my father and the skin beneath his eyes.

But it is two of the shorter pieces in the collection that I wish to hone in on. In Foyle’s collection, people search for their place in a world, which is constantly shifting the boundaries between love and violence, past and present.

In “Corn-Swallowed Woman”, the reader is brought straight into the guts of the story with the opening line: “I had to identify my mother’s body.” It is so horrific, it is ordinary. It is through the ordinary that Foyle reveals the extraordinary. The reader is left questioning what is home? Yet despite the diverse settings, the worlds in these stories are familiar: households, diners, fields, rivers, restaurants, friends’ houses.

The story “Dead People” takes place in Darren’s uncle’s house. There is, from the start, an underlying sense of unease:
Darren says his weird uncle has some pictures in his garage. Pictures of dead people, he says, and he looks at me. I’m smoking my last cigarette, feeling the smoke curve around my teeth.
“You want to see dead people?” Darren says.

Instantly, we’re in the Darren’s world. And that of his uncle and the young (unnamed) female narrator who tells us what those around her think of her. Her mother warns her about doing things with Darren; her step-dad said she “was the sort of girl you had to keep your eyes on.”

We’re not so sure what she thinks of herself but we’re drawn to the fact that she reads a lot. And it is her hunger for knowledge is what this story is really about and Foyle keeps the reader guessing all the way. Building up to the moment when Darren’s uncle shows her the pictures there is a sense of odd relief in discovering what the pictures are:
I look down at the picture his uncle is showing me. It’s black and white and it has houses in straight lines. Nothing but houses, but weird houses. Long and narrow and with barbed wire wrapped around the towers. I know what this is.

We thinks that’s it...but there is a final twist into which Foyle so cleverly wraps the layers of history around the pain of her narrator – with an image of “the hottest shower.” It is masterfully achieved.

In the end it is the ability of Foyle’s characters to accept life with cold indifference to abusive realities and at the same time the true warmth of human nature that stays with you long after you’ve finished Somewhere in Minnesota.

Shauana, thanks so much for this post.  I love the stories of Foyle and increased my understanding of her work through your great insights.   
Here are some links to Gilligan's  writings

There is still plenty of time to join us for Irish Short Story Week Year Two-all you have to do is do a post on your blog about an Irish Short Story and let me know about it.   If you prefer I am more than happy to place your posts on The Reading Life.
Mel u


@parridhlantern said...

As someone who like yourself is an avid fan of the stories of Órfhlaith Foyle, it's wonderful to get another perspective on them & one from another writer adds to that appeal. Fantastic coup Mel & liking the extension to The Irish Short story week, maybe make it officially a month next year & celebrate what is an obvious love of yours. Thanks for all your hard work.

Órfhlaith Foyle said...

Thank you Shauna for your thoughts on my work. It was a lovely surprise to read your post on The Reading Life this morning! Thank you also to Mel u and to Parrish.

shaunag said...

Órfhlaith, It was a pleasure. The hard bit was trying to decide which stories I'd focus in on! Looking foward to more of your stories. Best, Shauna