Somewhere in Minnesota
by Órfhlaith Foyle

Arlen House
Second Collection

"His daughter 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

Somewhere in 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, for 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.

Finding Women 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.

In Sweet 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 kicking."

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. 

Read a story from this collection in Horizon Review

Maura O' Neill has 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 while she looks for a way to incorporate more creative writing into her life.
Maura's other Short Reviews: David Gardiner (ed) "Solid Gold Anthology"

Siobhan Fallon "You Know When The Men Are Gone"
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Órfhlaith Foyle was born in Nigeria to Irish missionary parents. She now lives in Galway, Ireland. Published works include Somewhere in Minnesota (2011), Red Riding Hood's Dilemma, a poetry collection (2010), Belios, a novel (2005), and Revenge, an anthology of poetry and short fiction (2005).

Read an interview with Òrfhlaith Foyle