Out of the Blue is the second collection of short stories by Eddie Stack I have read. My first one was his The West: Stories from Ireland. I really liked his first collection, otherwise I would not have read a second one!
Eddie Stack is one of Ireland's most famous contemporary authors. He has been reviewed with great favor in the mainstream print world by publications like The New York Times, The Observer, and The San Francisco Chronicle to name just a few. The people in his stories may just be "ordinary people" but there is nothing ordinary about the Irish and Stack does a wonderful job of proving this point. (I often think that other people seem ordinary and normal to use only because we do not really know them.)
In posting on short story collections I like to look at particular stories rather than simply generalize about the collection. If I were pondering buying or reading a short story collection this is what I would prefer to read and I also think it shows more respect for the writer. I will include an official author bio and a link to Stack's webpage at the end of my post as well as some general remarks on why I like this collection so much.
I admit I read this story first as somehow I liked the title and had a feeling it was going to be a good story to get me smiling. How can you not like a story that starts out like this: "During that slow, dark time between New Year and Lent, a black ass sauntered into town". (I admit I smiled to myself as I imagined a New York City high school teacher telling his students they were going to read a story about a black ass.)
The black ass wanders through town, peering in store windows and people just ignore him, thinking he is just passing through town. After a few days it can often be seen watching TV through a shop window. One day the shop owner tries to run the donkey away and the ass ends up breaking the shop windows. The shop owner goes to the police to demand the donkey be impounded. A posse of animal hunters with the sheriff in the lead, along with a butcher who brings a gun "just in case". The donkey is no fool and he sees the posse after him so he invokes and old Irish tradition and takes refuge in a church. The posse men try to tell the priest that the right of sanctuary does not extend to animals. A local mad woman lets it be know that the donkey was God's favorite animal and this one might be here on a mission from God. Now things get really weird. The animal ends up in the custody of a local man who tries to tame him but he ends up selling him to French hippies who live in the area and now the donkey really gets rude! We begin to wonder is the man who thinks he owns the donkey a bit touched or is the donkey really able to talk? This is a great totally fun story that pokes gentle fun at the people in the story with no harm meant.
"Angels" is set in a small town in Ireland. Mariah notices a lot of people have gathered in the street and wonders what is going on, is it a funeral or something. Soon lots of people are coming together as the crowd feeds itself with the curious. Stack does a very good job in just a few words with letting us see the excitement and sense what the people are like. Everyone is an individual which is one of the things I like so much about the stories of Stack. They go to get the head constable but he is not around. All of a sudden the local chemist who is a total recluse shows himself for the first time in years. People are getting more and more excited try to figure out what is going on. Soon it is like their is a big festival in the town. At twilight a group of ruffians light a fire. Now the story gets totally fascinating. Even the local priest cannot explain what happens. I will leaved the rest of the plot untold but it is really a wonderful story.
"Dreamin' Dreams" is about blue collar Irish Immigrants living in San Francisco. The people in this story are not web designers and they do not own a boutique that imports antique art from Tibet. I suspect they do not march in Pride parades or live in lovingly restored 19th century town houses. They can afford imported Irish beer only on paydays, if they are lucky enough to have a job.
A quick Google search found that Ireland is second, behind the Czech Republic in beer consumption, coming in at 131.2 liters or 35 gallons of beer person per person. If you remove nondrinkers, the underage and such form the factors the amount consumer per actual drinker must go way up. This explains all of the drinking stories to be found by Irish Writers.
Our lead character, MJ, has just celebrated his 13th year in America and was just laid off from his construction job. This paragraph pretty much tells his story.
"MJ is fifty something, a small stock bachelor with blue eyes and a red porter face. America had not made much of an impression on him, fortune-wise or other and he is the same today as he day he left Ballysollock. Years of work trying to get somewhere and now he realizes there is nowhere to go to. Digging, digging, digging. Day and night. Seven days a week, digging through life in the hope of going back to Ireland with a bundle of money. Now there is no digging and no money. Just time; years of it fell into his lap and he wasn't ready for it".
MJ is not used to having free time and does not know what to do with himself. He walks the streets saying hello to other Irish immigrants. He has one mate, Red Carty from Galway, who has not worked for years and lives from Social Security. Red "sleeps late and drinks early". All of their conversations are about the good old days back in Ireland. Everyday is the same for MJ, drinking a couple of pints with Red, all he can afford, going back to his two room flat, fixing a meal of beans, bread, eggs, and potatoes and falling asleep watching wrestling.
Nothing much happens in the story once MJ loses his job and it does not look like a lot is going to happen but more of the same.
If you ever wondered who the scary looking men drinking alone in the dark corner of the kind of pub your parents told you was dangerous were, this story is for you.
"Dreamin' Dreams" is a very enjoyable to read story that seems quite real.
"Ellie" is another story about an immigrant, in this case a woman, recently a widow, who is spending her first Christmas without her husband. Ellie is having diner in a small restaurant in Columbus, Ohio. The daughter of the owner takes her order and asks her if she is Irish. When she nods her agreement she tells her that they have a young woman from Ireland working at the restaurant and says she wants the two of them to meet. Ellie starts to think about Ireland, where she left long ago. She was from Ballygale. One of the priests she keeps in touch with tells her young people are leaving in thousands, that there is no future for them in Ireland. Ellie herself arrived in the USA with two dollars in her pocket. She had a horror of Ireland in her mind. She worked hard and married a good hard working man who made a fortune as an undertaker. Antonio and she never had any children. It was his fault but she did not mind. When she and the young Irish woman begin to talk they discover a connection, one that shocks Ellie to the core of her being. I will leave the rest of the story untold as it is really well done.
"The King of the Dancers"
"The King of the Dancers" is a very interesting story, centering on an Irishmen who is one of the stars of a dance group touring America. The story opens in New York city at a party attended by the cream of Irish-American society along with the usual free loaders! Domnick notices an attractive woman. She approaches him and tells him his performance was great. It turns out she is a documentary film maker. He senses a film opportunity so he chats her up. Of course they start and affair and of course he has a wife back in Ireland. This is a perfect story that packs a lot of life and truth in a few beautiful pages.
There are six more very interesting, wise and wonderful stories in this collection. I totally endorse it to any and all.
I totally endorse this collection to all.