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

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Fireproof and Other Stories by Celeste Auge

Fireproof and other stories by Celeste Auge (2012, 151 pages)

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

Celeste Auge

"Home is where your mother makes you live.   Language is for getting by".

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.     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.   

Today I will be posting on a wonderful new collection of stories Fireproof and Other Stories by Celeste Auge.  It is not easy growing up female in the world of Fireproof and Other Stories.  If you are lucky enough to know where your father lives he for sure is not there for sage advise or to praise your school work. If your mother is sober for a week, it is a record.   If you a virgin when you turn 15  you are one of very few and of course pregnant at 14 will guarantee you a life on the dole.  Families are about guilt and old pain, the church is about guilt on top of guilt, you may think you can escape its reach but you are wrong.   You learn early to pretend you do not notice anything wrong in the adult world.   Men who are nice to you just want sex.

"Fireproof"    "On the strongest days, I would fill with righteous outrage-my words, my world-and pee would stream down the cuffs of my purple bell-bottoms.  My mother was used to this kind of thing at home.  "Take after your father", she would mutter"

"Fireproof" is a great lead off story.   It is told in the first person by a now thirty something seeming woman who had some serious issues growing up.   When she was born she almost died because of lack of blood and this slowed down her learning ability, both in terms of linguistic and social skills.  The narrator can let you see what I am talking about much better than I can (the censorship of the expression is just for the sake of search engines  not finding word on my blog)

"When I got over my first word--F***, I went around naming things:  the loomering, chewper, meemies.  The living room, sports, bottle caps, nipples.  Near death before birth gives me the right to claim the world, name it".

You have to wonder starting out how a preschool child acquires such a first word, maybe we know already what part of her problem may be.  

Moving forward she is now ten and they are living in a nice trailer.   The mother has been called in for a conference with the principal.   It seems the school thinks the girl needs speech therapy until the mother begins to talk with an accent the principal cannot understand unless she slows down to a very slow pace.   We moved to 12 and she is visiting her French Canadian relatives.   Now she is thirteen and has had her first kiss, in the tool shed.   Her parents fight horribly all the time, she thinks it is her fault as children often do.  Now something big happens, her mother takes her and leaves Canada and her husband and goes back to Ireland.  She knows the other students are supposed to be speaking English but she cannot understand them hardly at all.   

Part of this story is about how the words we know and use shape us.   Now she is 16 and the people around her think she must be an American.   She begins to drink a lot.   

Oh no at 17 she is in love with a boy from Spain, or in lust.   She follows him to Spain by buying a ticket with money her mother had saved up for her college registration, only she forgot to tell the mother about it and tells herself she will pay the money back once she gets a job.   Somehow she gets a job teaching English to Spanish kids.  

We push ahead to when she is thirty six.   Auge does a great job making the years fly by and we really are told all we need know.   It is fun to fill in the missing years.  She has her own daughter who is age five and does not speak.   Things have kind of come full circle or maybe the dysfunctionality in her own life is mirroring itself in a worse way in the life of her daughter.  

The story rolls on perfectly with more and more inevitable issues and squalor.   I will leave the rest of the plot untold. 

I think this is a great story as Auge has illustrated the long term consequences of the consequences of near or over the line abusive patterns of child rearing and the inability of parents and society to really cope with those who may learn in non-standard ways.

In spite of the rather grim plot, the story was a lot of fun to read and it was wonderful to see the years run their course.   "Fireproof" is a great lead of story and you will need to read it yourself to see what the title means.

"Molly Fawn"  "you like the idea of traveling around your own country as a stranger."

Auge certainly knows how to start a story in an attention grabbing fashion:

"Things you (probably shouldn't tell your boyfriend:
that you once exchanged a backseat F*** for money.   But it was only one of the Byrne brothers, from down the road in Glasnevin.
That your mother lives in a mental institute-.."
There is real a lot packed into the four pages of "Molly Fawn".   The story continues on with the young female narrator thinking of all the things it is best not to tell your boyfriend.   She is, just like the central character in "Fireproof" from a dysfunctional family that has taken its toll on her.   She is sick of her boyfriend and his friends endless conversations about American crime shows.   She dropped out of college, must have been art school maybe, because she says she developed an intense relationship with the color red and her printmaking instructor.   Her thirty year old boy friends smokes may too much (maybe this is drugs maybe not) and calls his mother, in her mind, way too much for advise.   She takes a job at a make up counter in a store to get free samples and she is tempted by the offer of a man working in a circus to travel with him.
This is really a lot to enjoy in this very entertaining and perceptive story.

"Mammary World"

No this is not a story about a "gentleman's club" or an x-rated amusement park.   Like our first two stories it is about a young woman with problems.   A woman from the bottom half of the economic strata, people who just have jobs, if they are lucky, not careers.   She gets a job at the Supervalu grocery store in order to save up for a breast reduction operation.   The hardest part of the job is walking uphill.   Her mother is not happy and gives her the silent treatment for a while.   It is sort of like school, no Ipods or mobile phones allowed, no chewing gum.  It is her first real venture into the adult world.  She is so tired of men looking just at her F-Cups.  She freezes when it happens. She starts to become friends with one of the older women working there Nora, she is working because her two sons are in college.   One way she passes the time is to kind of size up customers based on their food purchases.  Learning a new to me word, a common occurrence for me while reading the Irish short story, she imagines how tart a sloe would be when a customer buys some.

Before she can get her operation she needs to drop her body mass index down quite a bit.  The operation costs the amount of money it will take her 923 hours working in the store to get.  It is fun to meet the other workers, including a bit slow coworker, Johnny, who is the only one who has ever lasted over a year on shelf duty.  She is jealous when flat or normal chested girls check out in her lane.   She pictures her self as like a Hindu goddess on a good day an a "lactating sow...or a pair of breasts with me attached".  One day her boss, Mike, the first adult man she has known other than teachers or family, kind of corners her in his office but she is not sure of his intentions and just leaves the office.   Her mother comes in the store one day and tells her she has bought her a "space-engineered bra with NASA techology".  I will leave the very interesting sort of partially left to your imagination close of the story untold.   This is a really fun to read story that gets us very realistically into the mind and world of the young woman whose breasts are way to big.  

"Ghost Girl"

"Ghost Girl" is a great story that takes a girl with a roaring drunken mother and an absentee father from  four and half to fourteen, told in her first person.   She learns to make her self invisible, to become a ghost girl or that is how she deals with the banality and brutality of her life.  When she is in the fourth grade other girls whisper "slut" when she walks by.   She grows up fast.   Soon she is taken away from her mother who went way too down in drinking and drugs so the social workers took the girl.  Her mom goes from one man to the next, each one ends up kicking her out.   The narrator begins to learn the foster child system.   Some foster parents just want money, some times you have to watch out for the boys or the husband of the woman and worst of all are the sincere people who want to show you the right path in life.

What is so brilliant about this story is how Auge enters into the mind of the child, we see a world of pain to come with a repeating of the cycles of her mother, she seems a wonderful way ahead of her.  I have intentionally left out important details so you can have the pleasure of discovering this story for yourself.

"Telling Stories"

"Telling Stories" is another very perceptive beautifully written story told in the first person by a troubled young woman with a problematic mother and an absent father.   This time there is an important and rather strange other person in the story, Esmay, who sits on her bed and reads her stories, kind of like fairy tales.  Only Esmay seems to be a figment of  her imagination.   When she takes tea up to her mom in bed she pretends to listen accept when her mother talks about her father, who the girl misses so much.   The mother keeps referring to her husband as "your father" as if that somehow makes him her fault.   Her and her mom were close, sometimes the roles are a bit reversed.  I learned a interesting Irish slang term in this story, "culchie girl" meaning, per the Irish Slang dictionary, a term used by people from Dublin to refer to country hicks.  "Telling Stories" is a lot of fun to read and shows more of the acute understand Auge has of the mind of teenage or a bit younger girls (having three teenage daughters I can appreciate her insight as we try to steer out daughters to a good life for themselves).

"The Good Boat"  

"The Good Boat" was a refreshing change of pace.   It is about a group of young Irish women training to crew in a river raise.   Auge lets us see just what it must feel like to be in the crew and we get to know something about each of the girls on the team.  A totally fun and exciting story that shows more of the range and talent on Auge.

"Deedee And The Sorrows"

"Deedee And The Sorrows" is a really interesting story about a woman, now thirty five and still trying to carry on her rock and roll dreams.   We travel the pub circuit with Deedee and we are inside her head as she tries to decide does she continue on playing to now near empty pubs or does she go back to her job as a data entry clerk.  A very good story, totally credible in its transition from youth to the start of middle age, dreams once begun now fading.

Fireproof and Other Stories is a great collection of short stories.   I have posted on seven of the sixteen  stories.    One of the really best stories is about two grown sisters getting together after the funeral of another sister, you can tell they were also problematic teens and now they are still both a bit of a mess, especially the one who makes a really wild act of thievery seem just the thing to do.

Official Author’s Bio

Celeste Augé is an Irish-Canadian writer who has lived in Ireland since she was twelve years old. Her fiction and poetry have been widely published in literary journals and anthologies, and she has published two chapbooks of poetry, ‘Tornadoes for the Weathergirl’ and ‘Smoke & Skin’. In 2009, her poetry was short-listed for a Hennessy Literary Award and Salmon Poetry published her first full-length collection, ‘The Essential Guide to Flight’. In 2010 she received an Irish Arts Council Literature Bursary to work on her second collection of poetry. She won the 2011 Cuirt New Writing Prize for fiction. Her book ‘Fireproof & Other Stories’ is due out on the 1st of July 2012.

And Furthermore…

I spent my formative years in the backwoods of Northern Ontario, Canada. My mother is Irish and my father is French-Canadian, but English was the only language ever spoken at home when I was growing up. When I was twelve my family moved to Ireland. Not too long afterwards, I started secondary school with the Jesuits in Galway. I learnt to row and to drink.
I developed an intense relationship with poetry once I had left school (and the flat expectation that every line of a poem could be analysed ‘correctly’ for an exam). Literary journals started accepting poems of mine when I was in my twenties, which always took me by surprise. Fiction had kept me sane during my childhood, and poetry helped me make sense of my twenties. After the birth of my son, in the early crazy years, poetry was about the only thing that made sense to my sleep deprived mind. So I indulged, sank into other people’s words, and re-discovered my own. And in 2006, I published a chapbook of my poetry from my formative poetry years, called Tornadoes for the Weathergirl. Over the years I’ve worked in various jobs – babysitter, waitress, shop assistant, library assistant, girl friday, English literature tutor, community Writer-in-Residence – and now I teach creative writing to adults and university undergraduates. When I was in my twenties, I dropped out of art college; in my thirties I completed an MA in Writing.
Many of the poems drafted while on the MA in Writing ended up in my first full collection of poetry, The Essential Guide to Flight, published by Salmon Poetry in 2009. Some of these poems have been read to enthusiastic audiences at poetry readings around Ireland (including the Cúirt International Festival of Literature, various libraries, & as part of Poetry Ireland’s ‘Introductions’). Two of them even got me shortlisted for a Hennessy Literary Award the same year the collection was published. In 2010 I received an Arts Council Literature Bursary to complete my next collection of poetry.
I now live in Connemara (in the west of Ireland) with my husband and son, a stone’s throw from where my mother was born and reared.

end of author bio

Celeste maintains an interesting webpage that has links to two of the stories in this collection and if you act quickly you can download a kindle edition of "Deedee And The Sorrows" from Amazon.  There also is a very valuable interview with Auge.
I also highly recommend that any one interested in contemporary Irish literature stop by the webpage of the Doire Press, the publisher of Fireproof and Other Stories.

I greatly enjoyed this collection of short stories and endorse it without reservation to all who love good short stories.

Mel u


Valerie Sirr said...

I really liked 'DeeDee and the Sorrows', especially the flow of language at the end echoing the singing

Danielle said...

thanks for such an interesting post, Mel. I read 'Mammary World' and 'The Good Boat' on-line - they are both great stories so it is good to know that Celeste has a collection out. I look forward to reading more of her stories.