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

Thursday, April 4, 2013

"Balan" by Valerie Sirr (2013)

March 1 to April 14
Valerie Sirr

I have been following the writing career of Valerie Sirr for over a year now.  I have posted on her flash fiction and her short stories.
She also did an excellent guest post on a collection of short stories by Geraldine Mills and we did a joint interview with her.  (You can find links to all of these posts here.)

"Balan", just published in Long Story Short (there will be a link to the story at the end of this post) is her latest and I think her longest work so far.  Balan is a wonderful story that brilliantly captures the relationship of a young man, in his early twenties or late teens, and his mother.  

As the day starts we can feel the closeness of Gerry and his mother, each feels it enough to require a need to recreate a balance through what we know is a long running ever developing bantering series of jibes.  They are getting ready to go out.  The family is affluent, they have a big Mercedes and a silver Audi and a full time maid, a young attractive woman from Poland.  The mother gets in the first shot of the day, something about how Gerry cannot seem to focus on anything but internet porn.  Gerry is in the bathroom with a towel wrapped around his waist.  He begins to think about the maid, Justina, and imagines her breasts, maybe leaking milk as was nursing up until recently and he gets an erection.  Just then, his mother decides to walk in the bathroom!  

He and his mother had been planning to go out on a "jaunt" in the Audi but it is in need of repair so they have to take the bus.  The mother tries to treat this experience, which will put her and Gerry in very close contact with people way below them in social standing and wealth, people who cannot afford a car, as an adventure to find away to relate to it.  His mother asks him where he wants to have lunch, and very much the teenager, he says he is not really into food so she can decide.  Of course if she had said in advance they are going to a particular place he would have insisted in picking the place.  Sirr does a masterful job of bringing us into the depths of their relationship with some very light touches.  

Gerry's father runs an advertising company.  Business is down a bit so his wife, Gerry's mother, has taken over collecting rents from their tenants.  She takes Garry along as she does not like to go alone.  You can feel a sense of xenophobia through out the story as the mother tells her many people will not rent to foreigners.  She also talks about which type of eastern European is the best tenant.  

Imagine their shock when their maid, Justina and her young son get on the bus.  Meanwhile Gerry is under going cultural shock as he has never really been in such intimate proximity to the poorer people of Dublin.  He imagines a bizarre fantasy about an old woman, from their he flashes somehow to the idea of his parents having sex, a nightmare for any teen, male or female.  This is intermingled with his sexual fantasies about the maid. I am assuming this fantasy is also somehow an economically based one in which he feels he may be able to obtain sexual access to her because she is the maid.  There are a lot of very telling details in this story about social class markers and the impact on Dublin of the influx of foreign workers brought in by the rise of the Irish economy.  It seems, though it looks like this maybe just before the decline, that things are starting to go down hill.  We listen in as people on the bus complain about foreigners.

There is an amazing heart stopping close to this story.  I will not tell any more of the plot.  The ending, as is the rest of this story is constructed in so well that we can easily feel we are on the bus, we pretend to be interested in what people we do not know say, we pretend not to be offended by depths of poverty we do not even want to think about. The close is really just flat out brilliant.  I went in just a few seconds from regarding Gerry as a typical semi-annoying teenager fully convinced he knows everything and that his parents are  clueless to a young man with whom I feel a very deep empathy.

There is much in this amazing story I have not mentioned.  I will be an eager reader of any and all new works by Sirr and I look forward to posting on her first collection of short stories soon.

You can and should read this story on Long Story Short, edited by  Jennifer Mathews

Author Data

Valerie Sirr has published short fiction and flash fiction in Ireland, UK, US, Australia & Asia. Publications include The Irish Times, The Sunday TribuneThe New WriterThe Stinging FlyThe Wisconsin Review.Some poems are forthcoming in anthologies from Revival Press, Ireland. Awards include 2007 Hennessy New Irish Writer Award, two Arts Council of Ireland bursaries and other national and international literature prizes most recently a flash fiction award (2011) from The New Writer Magazine (UK), judged by British poet and writer Catherine Smith. Valerie's flash fiction appears on the National Flash Fiction 2012 (UK) website. She holds an M.Phil. in Creative Writing from Trinity College, Dublin. She teaches creative writing and blogs on writing: Her short story collection is currently under consideration. 'Balan' was suggested by Flannery O'Connor's 'Everything That Rises Must Converge'.

Mel u

1 comment:

valerie sirr said...

Many thanks, Mel. It's wonderful to have such an attentive reader review my work. Thanks for your comments and observations. Always fascinating to get a sensitive reader's perspective. Your interest is much appreciated.