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The Wow Signal

Patrick Chapman

" 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 Chonchúir

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 style. 

Like any 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 surreal Venus 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.



Publication Date:2007

Paperback/Hardback? Paperback

First collection?Yes

Author bio: Patrick Chapman lives in Dublin; he is the author of the poetry collections Jazztown, The New 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 Oklahoma.

Read an interview with Patrick Chapman

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