Monday, March 14, 2011

Bad beer, fullness of purpose, corpse windbreaks, maple syrup, etc. - Irish short stories, Canadian vacations

Two part post.

1.  Wuthering Expectations is on vacation for a week.  Back next Monday, if I am up to it, once I have licked the maple syrup off my fingers.  Don’t want to get the computer too sticky.

Does that much Quebecois food involve maple syrup – rack of elk in maple syrup glaze, roast chicken in maple syrup sauce, cream of maple syrup soup – or is that just an obsessive tic of the Fodor’s writer?

2. mel u at The Reading Life is spending the week writing about Irish short stories.  He’s already covered Joyce, Beckett and Yeats.  Read along, he suggests.

I read along, a bit, in The Penguin Book of Irish Fiction (1999), ed. Colm Tóibín.  The book itself is irritating - huge and heavier than my cat.  As many pieces are excerpts from novels as separate stories.  I stuck with the stories, these:

George Moore, “Home Sickness”
James Stephens, “A Glass of Beer”
Liam O’Flaherty, “The Hawk”
Seosamh Mac Grianna, “On the Empty Shore”
Flann O’Brien, “The Martyr’s Crown”
Tom Mac Intyre, “Left of the Door”

More than I had planned, although, Moore aside, they are all not just short but tiny stories.  The Tom Mac Intyre is three repetitive paragraphs, more like a prose poem, or a riddle I failed to crack.

O’Brien’s story was a disappointment – Irish Maupassant, smutty ending and all, with The Troubles substituting for the Franco-Prussian War.  Very much not The Third Policeman.

The James Stephens story is hilariously overwrought misanthropy:

On this night life did not seem worth while.  The taste had gone from his mouth; his bock was water vilely coloured; his cigarette was a hot stench.

“The Hawk” should be from the perspective of the hawk, but is not, quite. Raptor-lovers will politely ignore the over-writing:

His brute soul was exalted by the consciousness that he had achieved the fullness of the purpose for which nature had endowed him.

I guess I don’t like hawks that much.  Most of the story is better – cleaner – than that, but yeesh.

George Moore’s contribution was not as good as the excerpt of his memoirs kindly provided by obooki, not nearly, but is still a well-made, well-observed, well-thought out short story.  An Irish immigrant returns home, circa, I don’t know, 1900.  Will he stay, or is it back to the Bowery?  Moore skillfully made me want to stay in Ireland, but perhaps just for a long visit.

Moore was pretty good, but the winner was Seosamh Mac Grianna.  His story is set – no idea when it was written – during the Famine, and is a mix of historically accurate despair and off-the-cuff absurdism.

He gave his back to the wind, and leaned against a rock, the cold corpse serving him for a shield against the sky.

If you happen to read an Irish short story this week, drop mel u a postcard.

Back Monday.


  1. Enjoy your vacation. I found the smoked eel and the Trappist beer (which I first experienced there and perhaps unfairly connect to the place) to be even better than the maple syrup.

    I'm picking my Irish story right now!

  2. Thanks so much for your participation-I had planned to read some stories by George Moore but could not work it in for the week -Seasamh Macgrianna is a new to me writer-I hope you have a great vacation

  3. Enjoy your vacation and the maple syrup!

  4. Hope the vacation's treating you well. Just wanted to drop in and say thanks again for the Kooser suggestion. I knew so little of his work and now I'm wading in it and really loving it.

  5. Thanks. I'm back to work. Everyone wants to read about Charles Péguy, yes? Yes?

  6. I am posting on "Home Sickness" by George Moore for Irish Short Story Week Year Two-starting on March 12-it is a really wonderful story-I also read two short stories by James Stephens-he must have had a terrible marriage or something!

    I will also be posting on other older era writers like William Carleton, Maria Edgeworth, Violent Martin and Edith Sommerville-

  7. That's funny, that the James Stephens you read are also miserable. The Moore is quite good; he is clearly a now-obscure writer worth some attention.

    Good luck with the event. I might get something up next week, but I also might wait for fairy tale week. Not sure.