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

Monday, June 4, 2012

Lights in the Distance: Short Stories by Susan Millar DuMars

Lights in the Distance:  Short Stories by Susan Millar Dumars (2010, 127 pages)

The Irish Quarter:  A Celebration of the Irish Short Story
March 11 to July 1

Susan Millar DuMars

"The sky has depth, you could drown up here.  Earth- bound people have no idea.   Nicki sings, Put on your red shoes and Dance.  Her voice is throaty and you feel anything could happen."

Susan Millar DuMars
Please consider joining us for this event.     Everything you need to participate is in the resources page, including links to 1000s of short stories, from brand new ones to stories now in the public domain.   Guests posts are also welcome.   Emerging Irish Women is now a full term event.   I am starting to think, for me at least, the best part of the Irish Quarter has been the great emerging writers I have read as a result of it.    If someone does an online event in 2030 celebrating the Irish short story, I think some of the writers I have featured so far will be included.   

 I have never had the pleasure of being in Ireland but I do I know Galway for sure has more than its share of great writers.   Posting on collections of short stories by the same author presents a challenge, to me at least, as when you read through the collection you tend to quickly look for commonality in the stories rather than looking at the works one at a time.    My approach on a collection is to post on a number of the stories individually  and indulge in an overview at the conclusion of my post.   I think this shows respect for the artist and if I were pondering buying or investing my time in a collection of short stories this is what I would want in a post.   

"Lights in the Distance" by Susan Millar DuMars is a beautiful collection of stories.   It is about relationships, about things that almost happen, about what can happen when you are too lonely.  It is by turns hilarious (if you can read "Lennon and McCarthy" without least cracking a smile, have your pulse checked), wise and erotic.   Most of the stories are about women, often about women whose relationship with the men in their lives is not what it once was.   Some of the stories are set in Galway, there is some drinking with your mates in the pubs and their is some drinking yourself into oblivion.  It is about freedom and being trapped.   

"Belfast"  (20 pages)

"Belfast", the lead story, starts out in the kitchen with a couple talking about what they will have for Sunday lunch.    The wife is surprised to see that her husband has been up early peeling potatoes.   The wife says maybe they can just get a take out dinner but the husband wants the full works.   They are on their way out and the husband tells her he plans on inviting some of this friends for lunch.   A very normal ordinary conversation.   Underlying all this is our knowledge of the terrible troubles in Belfast.   It as if the couple are striving very hard to be normal and ordinary.   So far we do not know where they are going.   On the radio they hear the news of a terrorist bomb attack on a train in Madrid.  We now know the date is March 11, 2004.  They arrive at the club they are going to and are greeted as old customers.  DuMars does a great job with the conversations in the pub.   This story is about carrying on in the face of senseless violence, about finding a kind of salvation in the small pleasures and domestic rituals  of life.   We find out a friend's husband works offshore in Saudi Arabia.   The wife is going to join him, after all everything is air conditioned.   There is a lot of old business between the people in the pub, some tragic history is brought to mind just by being there.   They find one of the people on the trains in Madrid was from Belfast and their attention is changed to that momentarily.   Underlying the story is the steady erosion of the business of the pub which reflects the decline in Belfast.   Everybody has dreams still but they have at best a tenuous hold on them.  "Belfast" is a really well done story and it felt totally real to me.

"Potential"  (10 pages)

"The street was empty and Tom was glad.  No eyes.  He could walk to the end of the block and not wonder what he looked like doing it.  He could smile, skip, whatever he felt like.  If only he knew what he felt like".   For sure I am hooked by these great opening lines, I want to know more about Tom and what he is up to, I wonder if he is up to no good or just out for a walk.   This story is about living up to your potential.    I sure I am not the only one whose memory contains conversations with their parents and teachers about not living up to their potential.   Tom is on the way to visit the doctor.  He fell at work and hit his head and his boss, the owner of a nice restaurant where Tom has just been promoted from his waiter job, wants to make sure his is ok.    DuMars gets gets us inside Tom's head.  Other people are a lot more worried about his potential than he seems to be.   When he gets to the doctor's office he is interviewed by a woman not much older than  he is.  The man's thoughts while being interviewed show the very high intelligence behind these stories.  She asks him how he feels after the fall and if the fall brought out any emotions within himself.    Tom's mother, of course, wants him to live up to his potential.   I really thought DuMars did a very good job of letting us see what Tom's understanding of the how a void existed in the life of her mother, one created by the death many years ago of his father.   You could tell his mother was still deeply hurt by this but maybe it goes over Tom's head in part.   Tom also has a very interesting conversation with a professor at his school.   He is pretty old to be still going to school and his scholarship has been cut due to low grades.   We are subject to the avuncular lecturer the professor gives him about living up to his potential.   I thought the ending gave a ray of hope that maybe Tom knew what is real potential was and had maybe found a possibility of realizing it.   "Potential" is a very well done understated story that shows how words like "potential" can be used to manipulate even when those using them have no real idea why they are doing so or what it pulling their own strings.

"Eve"   (10 pages)  "I hate it when you get drunk before me".

There is a lot of drinking in the Irish short stories I have read.   I did a Google check and Ireland is second in the world in per capita beer consumption.   I have been listening to a number of Irish radio stations (via Tune in Radio on my Ipad) and an awful lot of the songs are a celebration not just of the congeniality of drinking with friends or in a pub but of the relieve that being drunk brings the singers.   It is not just a way to forget troubles but an almost Bacchanalian celebration.   Sometimes you celebrate with the Gods, sometimes with a stranger whose name you won't recall the next day and sometimes with the self you wish you were.  "Eve" opens in a pub or restaurant on New Years Eve, the biggest party going night of the year, you just have to at least pretend you are having a good time.  Molly is looking for a few minutes of kissing and hugging strangers.   Tom, her companion, boyfriend?, checks out the flavored condoms in the machine in the comfort room.   Molly when Tom steps away strikes up a conversation with Steven.   He asks her what her if she has any New Year's Eve resolutions.   For some reason she says yes she plans to read more classics.  (I like this woman already).   She decides that Stephen looks like a readers and they launch into a conversation about Sartre and Camus, which I greatly enjoyed listening in on.  DuMars does a great job with the bar conversations, one of the attractions of strangers in a bar is that you can recreate yourself with them, be more who you want to be than who you are the only problem is you cannot live there.  "Eve" is a first rate story that brings Molly to live for us.

"Earth-Bound People" (9 pages)  "Jack Daniels,  man of the house".

"Earth-Bound People" is a near perfect account of a teenage woman dealing with the consequences of her mother's binge drinking and pill taking.     We observe the mother in a terrible post drunken state on the couch, fat and crying, she looks "raw".   She has enough of the poet in her to utter the lines quoted above, which are also a terrible slam on whatever men might have been in her life, including her daughter's father.     Aunt Jane is on the phone, checking up on her sister.   She attributes her sister's problem to a no-good man, sounds like one in a series.  At 12:32 am,  Nicki, the daughter is out on the street, free from her worrying about her mother and trying to take care of her.  "Her face is pale and smooth like as mask".   She comes alive on the streets.   I love the last few pages of this story and I hope you will read them for your self.   We wonder how long until Nicki begins her own downward spiral and we hope it does not happen but walking the streets at midnight is not a good sign.

"Fondly"  (5 pages)

"Fondly" starts out with Kate in a day dream  of being in bed with her lover, imagining herself stroking the warm skin on his neck.   The the song that started her on this ends and she is back to the reality of working in a coffee shop.   She cannot stop thinking about the man who left her.  Kate hopes maybe he will come in the cafe today.   It seems he had moved away from her and while gone sent her a letter saying he was sitting in the Apostasy Cafe sipping a chai latte and thinking of her.   She moves to be with him and now she works in the cafe and she is gone.   She is terribly love sick, maybe she is in love with the pain of his absence as much as with him.  "Fondly" is a beautiful story about a love that does not make much sense, about a woman  used badly, maybe she knows it, maybe she does not.

"Live Nude Girls"  (4 pages)

"Live Nude Girls" is set in the adult entertainment area of the San Francisco.  Just like a sign in a business that says "Live Nude Girls" gets your attention (or either you pretend not to notice it)  so the title of this story gets your attention right away.  ( The twisted side of me wonders who would be attracted by a sign that says "Dead Nude Girls".)   This story is partially about the dubious partial pleasures to be found in topless  bars and is a study in false hopes and voyeurism.   It is like looking at the dark side of yourself as a freak.  It is about the effect of objectifying others.   It is also about a class of middle class, middle aged? women stripping on stage for the first time after completing a five week course.    Of course being San Francisco, the bizarre to most places is the common place.

"Lennon and McCartney"  (ten pages)

Safe bet, your first guess as to what this story is about will be very wrong.   This is a deeply humorous very erotic story that I really liked a lot.   I laughed aloud at parts of it.   I sort of want to tell you what the story is about but that would spoil the fun for potential readers.   If you like Eric Clapton you will either love the ending or hate it.  

There are six more stories in this wonderful collection.   All very much worth reading and quite different from each other.   I totally endorse Lights in the Distance:  Short Stories by Susan Millar DuMars.   I would for sure read more of her work.

Author Bio from publisher web page

SUSAN MILLAR DUMARS was born in Philadelphia. She has been short-listed for the Cúirt New Writing Prize and the START chapbook prize. Her fiction was awarded a bursary from the Arts Council of Ireland in 2005 and was showcased in a mini-collection, American Girls (Lapwing Publications) in 2007. Susan has also published two volumes of poems with Salmon Poetry.  

from Wikipedia

Millar DuMars was born and raised in Philadelphia to a Belfast mother. In 1997 she visited Galway during the Galway Arts Festival, and has since made the city her home. Her husband is the poet Kevin Higgins; the couple have organised the 'Over the Edge' reading series and facilitated creative writing workshops throughout Galway since 2003. She also teaches creative writing classes at the Galway Arts Centre, GTI and GMIT and for the Brothers of Charity's Away With Words project.
In 2009 DuMars and Higgins were the subject of a short documentary by Des Kilbane called 'Rhyming Couplet', which was screened at the 2009 Galway Film Fleadh.

Lights in the Distance:  Short Stories by Susan Millar Dumars is published by Doire Press.   Their very well done web page has several very interesting titles and is a good source of information about the Irish literary scene.

Mel u

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