by Tania Hershman
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.
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
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
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
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:
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”.
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
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.
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
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
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.
to one of the stories from this anthology on Spoken
Hershman is the
editor of the Short Review. Her first collection, The
White Road and Other Stories,
is published by Salt Modern Fiction.
Publisher: Stinging Fly
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
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