The Wow Signal
" My mind has bathed in the water of
Monet, roasted in the hells of Bosch, floundered on the wreck of the
Medusa. I have squared up to Mondrian, bounced with the basketballs of
Koons, pixellated inside a Pollock. All art is related in this way, has
instant access to everything ever painted, sculpted, or
installed.’ from ‘Venus d’Arc"
Reviewed by Nuala Ní
The Wow Signal is
the first collection from poet, screenwriter and now short fiction
writer, Patrick Chapman. An Irish wunderkind, Chapman published his
first poetry collection at twenty-one and has maintained a solid
writing career since that time. This début collection is a
mixed bag of the quirky modernity for which his poetry is known, and
some cultural reference loaded pieces, such as The Electrical Store,
which might well have been omitted.
Chapman does a
good line in wry humour and this is evident in Happy Hour where a
separated man and his daughter meet in the cliché-land of a
fast food outlet, "a crèche with cholesterol". This story is
saved from ho-humness by Chapman’s rueful, unadorned writing
accomplished writer, Chapman is not afraid of reaching into dark places
and there is plenty of angst as well as sinister happenings in this
book: there is a necrophiliac farmer, suicide and stalking. The
story A Ghost
has a man become a Peeping Tom on the woman across the street. He
becomes obsessed with her and even after she leaves the neighbourhood,
we know he hermits himself away as part of his obsession with her. He
stops going to work, survives on tinned food, and generally becomes
deranged in his isolation. The tone of the story is uneven, however, as
it is resolutely Northern Irish at the start, with separate Catholic
and Protestant grocers, pubs etc. But the later use of Americanisms
like "faucet" and "cable company" jar the reader and pull her out of
the narrative. This story also ends quite abruptly and the teasing
ending is perhaps arrived at too quickly.
Chapman is at
his most vibrant and interesting in stories such as the wonderfully
d’Arc. Here, the story is told from the point of
view of the painting as she observes her creator – the artist
– painting and interacting with his models. The artist, who
is perhaps da Vinci, is a cruel and misogynistic horror but the writer
humanises him by having him leave his studio for the most ordinary of
things: steak and shoelaces. This story is divided into small parts, a
device that Chapman handles well and employs often.
We see it again
in the story No
Place Like Home, set in California, which dances back and
forth over two years in the doomed relationship of Jeremiah and Jordan.
The subject matter is dark – unexpected pregnancy and suicide
– but the atmosphere is light in this moving piece.
All in all, I
would recommend this collection for Chapman’s deft and dry
looks at love and life; he comes at things obliquely, and
it’s because of this unorthodox, slant approach that his
writing is most appealing.
Living in Galway, Ireland, Nuala Ní Chonchúir’s
second fiction collection is To the World of Men, Welcome, Arlen House
(2005). Among her fiction prizes are the Jonathan Swift and the Cecil
Day Lewis Awards. Her bilingual poetry collection Tattoo:Tatú,
Arlen House (2007), is out now.
Chapman lives in Dublin; he is the author of the poetry
Pornography and Breaking
Hearts and Traffic Lights. He co-founded the Irish
Literary Revival website. He is also a screenwriter, and has won a
Cinescape Award, and his film Burning
the Bed won Best Narrative Short at a film festival in
with Patrick Chapman
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