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Let's Be Alone Together          

Declan Meade (ed)



"
I ate each evening in the diner and the waitresses had got to know me and they'd ask me how I was and when I said I was good they'd say how they loved my accent. But they were all middle-aged woman and they gave the impression they'd done some hard living in their time and I knew that they, too, were no cure for my loneliness."
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Reviewed by Tania Hershman

An anthology of stories by many authors, when it is well-edited and well-composed, has a personality of its own. Just as with a single-author collection, an anthology has themes, threads running through it, that reflect the editor's preferences, interests, choices. Irishness is most certainly one of the “character traits” of Let's Be Alone Together, the second anthology from Irish press Stinging Fly. Although submissions were not restricted to Irish writers, seventeen out of the twenty chosen for this book have an Irish connection, and, when done well, this is very welcome, with the rhythms and cadences of the language leaping from the page. 

Other themes appear: the desire for connection – probably a theme present in the majority of short stories - missing persons, loneliness, displacement, identity, death – as well as healthy doses of humour. 

When reading - and re-reading - twenty stories by different authors, what jumped out for this reader was the sense of whether an author was fond or contemptuous of his or her character and what a difference this makes. The excellently-placed first story, Jim O'Donoghue's Carson's Trail, a quiet, powerful tale, sets the mood well, telling of a father's illness from the point of a view of a seven-year-old boy. The boy is not condescended to by the author, who does not take any easy or cliched routes through a tragic situation. 

In Gina Moxley's Cuts, the author presents a main character who is obviously flawed, she has a weight problem she is all too aware of, yet, because Moxley gives her a voice without judging her, we are enchanted by this woman's bravery, she is not just another stereotypical victim of society's prejudices against the overweight. The first lines take no prisoners, leaving you gasping and wanting more: “Fat actress fucks FedEx man. That's what went through her mind in place of a post-coital fug.” 

One of the stories that stayed with me the longest after putting the book down was Tom Tierney's Looking for America. A spare tale, no flowery language here, this is a multi-layered story with complex characters, bringing in many themes: loneliness, displacement, history, relationships, religion, futility and despair. It begins: 

"I liked the town. I liked the idea of myself in this town. I liked the wooden homes with white walls and green railings, the High School flanked by playing fields and car parks, the diner with its Formica and stainless steel furniture and waitresses who poured endless cups of coffee and called me honey”. 

Its open ending, nothing neatly tied up, leaves us with a feeling of hope rather than of despair.

Polyfilla, by Mia Gallagher, is a violent and compelling tale which surprises and twists, keeping the reader nicely off balance. Breda Wall Ryan's The Egg Collector succeeds where some of the other stories in this anthology fall short by presenting her bizarre and disturbed heroine coolly and, once again, without judgment, so that we are allowed to feel for her while being absorbed and horrified by her actions. Helena Nolan's A Hare's Nest is a wonderful example of a story that is exactly the right length, neither over- nor underwritten, allowing the events and characters to speak for themselves so that we feel the deep sadness mixed with the joy and spark of a fleeting connection. 

There are moments of light relief, such as Michael J. Farrell's wonderful Writer-in-Residence, which belies the notion that a short story must be miserable! I suspected - as you tend to do when the main character of a story is also a writer - that this was based on the Farrell's own experience, but what he makes of it is a delight to read, and there is more here than just comedy. William Wall's Perfection Comes to Late and Colm Liddy's The Bride is Crying in the Toilet Cubicle, also successfully blend humour with something rather darker. 

An anthology is never going to succeed in pleasing every reader with every story, nor should this be the aim of an editor, but they are an excellent way of giving voice to new writers, some at the beginning of their writing careers. There are more than a few names here that I shall remember, as I will remember their stories, looking forward to their next appearances.

Listen to one of the stories from this anthology on Spoken Ink


Tania Hershman is the editor of the Short Review. Her first collection, The White Road and Other Stories, is published by Salt Modern Fiction. 

Tania's other Short Reviews: Etgar Keret & Samir el-Youssef "Gaza Blues"

Melvin J. Bukiet "A Faker's Dozen"

Rusty Barnes "Breaking it Down"

Roy Kesey "All  Over"

John Klima (ed) "Logorrhea: Good Words Make Good Stories"

Kelley Eskridge "Dangerous Space"

18 Lies and 3 Truths: StoryQuarterly 2007 Annual

Aimee Bender "Wilful Creatures"

Paddy O'Reilly "The End of the World"

Annie Clarkson "Winter Hands"

Yannick Murphy "In a Bear's Eye"


 

PublisherStinging Fly Press

Publication Date: September 2008

Paperback/Hardback? Paperback

First anthology?: No, second.

Editor: Declan Meade

Authors: Ragnar Almqvist, Evelyn Conlon, Danny Denton, Damien Doorley, Michael J. Farrell, Mia Gallagher, D. Gleeson, Rosemary Jenkinson, James Lawless, Colm Liddy, Viv McDade, Emer Martin, Gina Moxley, Helena Nolan, Jim O'Donoghue, Donal O'Sullivan, Breda Wall Ryan, Ingo Schulze, Tom Tierney and William Wall.


Buy this book (used or new) from:

The Publisher's Website: Stinging Fly Press

AbeBooks

Waterstone's

Amazon

And...don't forget your local booksellers and independent book shops! Visit  IndieBound.org to find an independent bookstore near you in the US


If you liked this book you might also like....

Declan Meade(ed) "These Are Our Lives"

Ian Daley (ed) "Bonne Route"

Jim Hinks (ed) "Brace"

What other reviewers thought:

Irish Times

Sunday Tribune.ie

Sunday Business Post

Goodreads