Somewhere in Minnesota
by Órfhlaith Foyle
knew by now that
the gun oil cleaned
nothing, but it was
useful to shift the
ingrained dirt. She watched
globs of scum collect
in her father’s
palms, which he flicked
at his daughter who
squealed, sidestepped and
deliberately kept laughing
because she had seen
what her father’s
hands could do."
Reviewed by Maura O'Neill
Minnesota is a book of nineteen tales.
Many are gruesome, most include some form of male-female intrigue,
and quite a few are rife with gritty violence and the unpleasant
effluvia most of us would rather not think about — but are willing
to suffer through when story the engages. Take Runt, in which
a young girl reckons with the remarkable violence that both surrounds
and is required of her:
She had developed
into a good pig killer and by now she could kill by touch. She had
learned not to look at the pig's eyes, but to straddle its neck,
while her father held its haunches down. She had strong arms and
hooked her left elbow about the animal's neck. She swallowed down
the feeling in her own throat as she held her knife in her other
hand. Her father had made it fit her palm, blade at her fingertips.
You feel for the pulse, then you plunge the knife in straight.
Runt and some
other of Foyle's stories go beyond common storytelling to the magic
that tale-spinning can be. Two Vampires,
example, begins with what almost sounds like the opening of a joke,
"Two vampires cross the road, enter a café, and order eggs."
From there it moves quickly like the changing light in an evening
sky, morphing with small details that build interest and suspense. Of
the vampire Robert looking for a victim in the café, Foyle writes:
"After some seconds he nods and nonchalantly wets his fingertips;
trails sugar across them, and sucks each one clean." The waitress
who is being courted as the next victim is characterized by Foyle in
humble but effective strokes: "She slips out of her seat and she
smoothes her apron across her stomach."
That's not to say
that Foyle leans overly heavily on detail. This and other stories are
driven adeptly by characters intriguingly motivated. In Two
Vampires, Francis, the other vampire, contends with an
insatiable hunger for the memory of his wife and with hatred toward
Robert (who has stolen from him his human existence). These
motivations push the tale to its inevitable, gruesome end.
gains its pace at the outset:
"We kill like dogs on heat…we enter
through windows, some with their curtains nailed to the frames. This
time the curtain rags are yellow with blue spots. Foster doesn't
see me touch. He's searching for food. He's also growling. He
calls it singing…It's his way of informing whoever is in hiding
that he'll find them and he'll drag them out and hack them down."
From the story's opening line and through to the end, reading is
like sorting the last few pieces of a jigsaw puzzle: You understand
the shifting scene only from snatches and slivers. You realize
gradually that the narrator is likely the most sensitive of the three
intruders, and you hope that he might show mercy to the woman who is
unfortunate enough to be found in the already ransacked house.
Frankie, Foyle does a rare thing, capturing the
perspective of a young boy whose father regularly attacks his mother.
As in Finding Women, this story is propelled by
hope. As you read of the terrible violence surrounding the
five-year-old, you think that he may be saved by the teacher and
nurse at his school. Meanwhile the child's-eye view of his battered
mother and his dark figure of a father is all too clear and almost
overwhelming: "His daddy put his mammy's head under the hot tap
in the kitchen and shoved his body against her legs to make her stop
Of note is the unique
texture that enhances the quality of Foyle's stories. It's
difficult to describe, except to guess that it is as though instead
of quashing her presence or ego altogether from her writing in order
to gain command of the storytelling, Foyle chose to take her own
stubborn tack. Rather than banning her presence from the narrative,
she coerces it only just far enough into the background to keep from
distracting the reader.
Foyle's writing style
in Somewhere in Minnesota brings
to mind the effect of a painting in which some of the pencil lines
still remain visible, with a near-transparent glaze of paint barely
hiding the original gesture. Seemingly, her hunger to find answers,
satisfy the quest, or however one might describe the writer's
calling, loiters about her edges of her tales, and the result is a
better, truer experience for the reader.
Foyle, in the end, is
along for the ride as both the writer and the hungry reader
interested in what happens to the waitress in the café, the little
boy in the troubled home, the young girl tasked with the killing that
is apparently her fate. Given the substance of the tales Foyle spins,
the company is most welcome.
|Maura O' Neill
written short fiction and poetry, but currently most word-sculpting
is done at her job as a technical writer. She has a blog that lies
fallow at www.bravegirlcopy.com
while she looks for a way to incorporate more creative writing into