by Kristin Thiel
The pieces in Nuala Ní Chonchúir's latest collection should definitely
be called short fiction, instead of short stories because they are
written from more of a poet's mind for language and the distillation of
moments than a prose writer's arc of plot and character. An
ekphrasis—with an examination of museums, painters, postcard prints of
famous work, and the like—each piece seems itself to be framed. As one
must imagine the greater context of a still life of fruit—Who bought
the pear resting here? Will they eat the fruit? Why did they choose to
paint it?—a reader must also imagine what lies outside each fiction's
also happens to be one of the piece's titles, and it is a clear example
of this framing technique. In other words, a reader will finish its
barely two pages with perhaps a shake of the head. A couple paragraphs
on Édouard Manet's "Le Déjeuner sur l'Herbe", followed by a couple on
Pablo Picasso's "Le Déjeuner sur l'Herbe", and then on Bow Wow Wow's
"See Jungle!" Album cover describes each painting, which presumably
builds from the previous. Are we doing anything more than study in
comparative art? The first person narrator stands outside the works
looking at them, but we learn little about this I.
Still, some of the pieces are
pretty complete stories grounded in very understandable details. Madonna Irelanda's
female narrator is heartbreaking in its explanation of a crumbled
marriage: "He could never help pointing out where I was going wrong
with a painting…He often told me he was jealous of me, as if that was
my fault," and "Ex-husband. That always sounds like I'm trying to state
a position…I hear my own defensiveness". The narrator sits "sucking
in" outside air; her ex mocks her tears: "‘Your bladder was
always too near to your eye'".
from which the pulled quote comes, likewise bodyslams the reader: The
narrator's child has just died, and while a child without parents is an
orphan and an adult who's lost a spouse is a widow or widower, "the
mother of a dead child is left with nothing; her special name is wiped
out with her child's passing". Chonchúir tells a solid story about
the narrator and her husband having an intimate dinner at friends'
house for the first time since their child's death.
One of the delights in Chonchúir's
collection is her tidbits of humor
around the impossibilities of talking about art. In Ekphrasis, the
narrator laments the black-and-white version of Bow Wow Wow's cover
art—the narrator's description of the color copy points out the bright
hues and says the other simply "didn't look as good". The narrator
of As I Look
explains the important differences between naked and nude:
"Naked means unprotected or bare,
stripped or destitute. Nude means
unclothed, or being without the usual coverings. Think about it. There
are a lot of nude ladies in this gallery, but are they really
But Chonchúir's artistic medium, of
the written word, is of
course (usually, and in this case) done only in black-and-white. And
while nude/naked do often contrast with positive/negative connotations,
the exposure and vulnerability, the striped-down-to-the-truth-ness,
inherit in nakedness is so often why readers read. What does a written
collection entitled Nude, not Naked, tell its readers? Readers must
look outside the frame for this one.
Read a story
from this collection in Horizon
is a fiction writer, reviewer, editor, and acquirer based in the U.S.
Pacific Northwest. Find her via her Web site or Twitter,
collection?: No, third.
bio: Born in Dublin in 1970, Nuala Ní Chonchúir is a full-time fiction writer and
poet living in Galway county. Nuala holds a BA in Irish from Trinity
College and a Masters in Translation Studies from Dublin City
University and teaches creative writing on a part-time basis. Nude is her third
collection of short fiction.
Read two interviews
with Nuala Ní Chonchúir
this book (used or
Publisher's Website: Salt
Author's Recommended Bookseller: Charlie Byrne's Bookshop
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