My Q and A Session with Aiden O’Reilly
The Backstory of a Book by Aiden O’Reilly
My first encounter with the work of Aiden O’Reilly was in January of 2015 when I read his 2008 Michael McLaverty Prize Winning Story,
“To the Trade”. I loved this story.
As the story opens the father and his son are on a scaffold on the house. The father is doing the skilled work, the son basically is his helper, handing him needed items. "To the Trade" is a very subtle story. One of the several evoked topics are Irish class markers. We see that when the son peers into one of the rooms and is impacted by the obvious femininity of the contents, elements of softness and comfort not found in his life. We learn, without being over instructed, that his mother is gone.
One of the characteristics of the Irish short story is the portrayal of deep but unshown on the surface feelings. You can feel both a love and a tension between father and son. The work is very hard and the weather is brutal. The lady of the house tells them to come down for lunch but the father does not want to rush down as if he is a starving tradesman being fed by the lady of the manor in the back kitchen. I felt a lot of real emotion when the father told his son to go eat while the food is hot.
While they eat the father and the woman are conversing about lamb. The woman notices the roughness of the man's hands. The lines below from the story shows to me how O'Reilly uses his hands for a. kind of near symphonic bringing to life of the struggles of the working class people of Ireland:
"The father reached out for another cut of bread. His thin hands were appallingly abused. The thread remains of a bandage clung to the middle finger. The skin on the sides of the knuckles was cracked in a radial pattern. Dark grey concrete stains lined the ancient cracks; one of them seeped blood, but as though welling up from a great depth. Veins and tendons interplayed on the back of his hand. The fingernails looked like worn saw teeth, or a cracked trowel. They were alive, but had the appearance of things, of abandoned tools. One nail was like a hoof — flesh and keratin intertwined to close over old wounds. Another was split in two from the quick to the fingertip, and a hard growth filled the space between. A bulbous texture like the organic growth of a tree bark over a rusty nail"
One can feel the depth of pain in these lines. The woman offers to put a plaster on his hands but he says no need but we know it has been a very long time since anyone has shown him any tenderness.
We see in the boy a trapped young man, he hates school and his only way he sees out is to do work on the homes of the rich. He and his father's relationship is both simple and complex.
After way to long a hiatus,I am once again posting on a work by Aiden O’Reilly, “Self-Assembly” from his highly lauded debut collection, Welcome, Hero.
I hope I am not the only happily married for a long time man, who does not go “humm” as he reads about the male narrator of the story getting a kit to build a woman
delivered to his door, from an unknown source.
“When he came home that day Eugene found a long box in the hallway. He dragged it into the living room. It was of a size that might contain a guitar, or some longer instrument. A white label on the lid stated: Contents: Self-assembly woman. He got out a steak knife and slit the brown tape at the edges. Inside were a number of pieces, separately wrapped. He lifted one up and picked at the wrapping. No bubble plastic, just layers and layers of pulpy paper. The object inside looked like nothing he had ever seen before. He unwrapped a few pieces and laid them out on the floor alongside the box. A few stubby tubes and bulbous shapes with snap-connectors embedded.”
In the kit he finds the parts needed to assemble a woman. He previously tried to put together some cabinets and failed badly. We witness his struggle to put the parts together. He slowly brings her to life. She at first just stays home but soon she learns English and develops a distinct personality. Genevieve soon is asking to meet his friends. The meeting in a pub was a lot of fun.
As the story goes on Genevieve,they do sleep in the same bed but we don’t know if they have sex or not, begins to use emotional blackmail to get her way. She has made a translation from robot, doll, Android to a real wife. Maybe this is what the narrator wanted all along. This is a very fine story.
There are fourteen other stories in the collection, I read and greatly enjoyed three of them so far. In April I will post on the title story, “Greetings, Hero”.
Aiden O’Reilly’s short story collection Greetings, Hero was published by Honest Publishing UK in 2014, and launched in London and in Dublin.Aiden lived for nine years in Eastern Europe. He studied mathematics, and has worked as translator, building-site worker, IT teacher, and property magazine editor. His fiction has appeared in The Stinging Fly (x4), The Dublin Review (x3), The Irish Times, Prairie Schooner, 3am magazine, and in Unthology 4 and several other anthologies. His plays have been given staged readings at The Triskel in Cork and in Dublin. He won the biannual McLaverty Short Story Award in 2008. In 2012 he received a bursary from the Arts Council.