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The Deportees & Other Stories

Roddy Doyle

" Their voices reminded Larry of the Artane roundabout – mad, roaring traffic coming at him from all directions. And he loved it, just like he loved the Artane roundabout. Every time Larry drove onto and off that roundabout he felt modern, successful, Irish. . "

Reviewed by John Matthew Fox

In Roddy Doyle’s first collection of short fiction, The Deportees and Other Stories, the characters are concerned with parsing between who is truly Irish and who is not. Doyle alternatively plays into and upsets stereotypes—there’s the familiar motif of an Irishman with a penchant for cursing, but also an Irishman who hates drinking; there’s the predictable Irish prejudice against immigrants, but also a student researching how Harlem literature influenced Irish literature, rather than the other way around. All in all, it’s funny, accessible fiction that prescribes predictable moral actions towards immigrants through less predictable narratives.

The first few stories have yawn-inducing summaries: Father dislikes man who his daughter brought to dinner. Man assembles a non-white Irish group for a band. Immigrant kid hassled in school. But these ho-hum premises gain traction when Doyle tweaks them, forcing us to reexamine the plots. The dinner table discussion has the surprising narrative twists of a much longer piece, the band has to overcome racism by their triumphant music, and the violence-riddled youth of the immigrant schoolchild is revealed through flashbacks. These divergences end up revitalizing worn-out concepts, even though the ingenuity of these stories still do not match the later ones.

In the second half of the collection Doyle shrugs off the familiar. An undocumented worker is blackmailed into ferrying illegal packages from city to city. A graduate student devises a test for Irishness involving responses to Riverdance and the national porn stars. What’s more, humor appears more frequently, even while dealing with weighty matters like the racist expectation that the black man will sleep on the floor. The lighthearted touch rescues the stories from feeling too heavy-handed, although not every story traffics in humor. The Pram is a dark tale about a haunted baby stroller, and some other stories channel an undercurrent of struggle and hopelessness, which seems to be an accurate rendition of the immigrant life, if not an encouraging one.

Doyle uses staccato bursts of sentences that evoke immediacy and desperation, such as in I Understand: “I will go to work. I will not let them stop me. I will go to work. I will buy a bicycle. I will buy a mobile phone. I am staying. I will not paint myself blue. I will not disappear.” In addition to the rhythms that offer a nice metaphor of the hardscrabble existence of the immigrant, the diction level is simple, mirroring the characters’ unfamiliarity with the language. Often the simple language is laced by the brogue spellings of “eejit” and “D’yeh” and “bate,” and also with Irishisms like “up the stick.”

Despite the presence of extortion, racism and bureaucratic oppression in these stories, their moral underpinnings are never in question. In fact, one could boil the ethics down into an injunction: Thou shall not abuse the immigrant. But the maltreatment in these stories is not explicitly condemned—there are no anti-racism diatribes that show the flawed rhetoric of the prejudiced. Rather, readers are expected to come to the stories with a moral stance that becomes reinforced. Doyle nudges us towards this stance by creating sympathetic characters, with whom we must identify and then be horrified by their treatment. It is a convincing technique, if not a surprising one.


John Matthew Fox lives in Los Angeles and has written for The Quarterly Conversation and Writers’ Journal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PublisherPenguin group USA

Publication Date: Jan 2008

Paperback/Hardback? Hardback

First collection?: Yes

Author bio: Roddy Doyle, born in Dublin, is an Irish novelist, dramatist and screenwriter. He has written seven novels, including Paddy Clark Ha Ha Ha, which won the Booker Prize in 1993.

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