on 7 September 2012
It's not every writer who can turn their craft to the short story amd make it work. Emma Donoghue is one of those writers. I found each story in this compelling collection had something to say for itself. Emma has a deft touch and an attentive observational eye.
Each story has a different take on modern life and the social and personal compromises that we continually feel we have to make, from a man misreading his wife's reaction to her facial hair, to the search for the perfect blue that's really more about the tricks memory plays, to the escalating cost of a cat's vet's bills that results in one half of a couple wondering what would happen if her partner had to make the financial choice regardung her own health. Sometimes it's sad and melancholic, sometimes funny, sometime brutal, but always engaging and well-written. We are taken on a extraordinary journey through the everyday, and I defy anyone to have not encountered at least one of the dilemmas portrayed here in some form or another. Thoroughlly enjoyable.
on 19 February 2016
Donoghue takes the prickly subjects, often the ones that need words of political correctness, and the painful, embarrassing, shameful subjects and gives us wonderful characters replete with their flaws, hopes and dreams. The first is the story of the woman, flown to Ireland from the US trying to get pregnant with the help of a (not too big) jar of sperm from her best friend’s husband. Another, (The Cost of Things) has the escalating cost of a couple’s vet’s bills for their cat threatening the couple’s relationship.
Perhaps predictably, one of the nineteen stories I liked best is ‘WritOR’ where a minor writer takes a position of writer-in-residence at a small college. Here Donoghue lets her imagination rip (I hope it’s not actual experience). She gives us the woman who wrote about ‘savages’ and when questioned said it was because she didn’t want to use the ’n’ word. The girl who wrote poetry and when asked about her favourites said she doesn’t pay attention to ’who actually wrote’ the poem. She doesn’t re-draft so as ‘not to mess with the magic’ of her appalling poetry, including ‘cactus flowers longing for the monsoon’, and worries about sending poems to magazines in case the editor steals them and publishes them under his own name. The students - wide age range and occupation - never use a dictionary: ‘the drunk fell down unconscientious’, and one decides to self publish without understanding what a verb is. Some never write a word but feel they have a destiny to fulfil. The Writer’’s optimism turns to compassion for these would-bes, these social rejects, then transmogrifies into anger and despair and finally to just listening.
Wry, clever, funny and insightful stories.
This engaging book of nineteen short stories, published in 2007, addresses the vagaries of contemporary life on both sides of the Atlantic. The stories are divided into sections: ‘Babies’ , ‘Domesticity’ , ‘Strangers’ , ‘Desire’  and ‘Death’ . The characters and their everyday concerns are presented in a quirky, but never superficial manner.
The starting points of most of the stories, written between 1999-2004, are inconsequential – a hair on a female partner’s chinny-chin-chin [‘Pluck’, in which Joseph seeks advice from the pages of ‘Women Are Cats, Men Are Dogs: Making Your Relationship Work’], a phantom pregnancy and a warning about the way that social embarrassment can spiral out of control [‘Expecting’], agreeing on the colour that a house should be painted [Lavender’s Blue’], a baby’s constant crying [Through the Night’, in which an exhausted mother considering her baby, Moya, understands that ‘even to use the terms night and day was misleading. Day and night were human inventions, Una realised, and Moya – a startled visitor from another planet – had never heard of them.’], vet’s fees [‘The Cost of Things’] or a guest’s night-time visit to the toilet [‘Ooops’].
The title story, previously included in the excellent compendium of Irish short stories ‘Ladies’ Night at Finbar’s Hotel’, 1999, is a rumbustious comedy describing the return of childless Dublin woman from America to obtain a jar of semen from Padraic, the husband of an old friend. However, Padraic meets a long-lost cousin working at the reception desk and from there it is laugh-out loud farce.
The characters are uniformly well drawn, enabling readers to relate readily to their situation even if it is one far from their lives or experiences. Some, like ‘Good Deed’ address an issue of global experience, a passer-by seeing an unconscious vagrant lying in the Canadian winter cold who needs medical attention, which poses the question - to get involved or to return to a warm home?
Donoghue’s sensitive handling of gay and lesbian issues are to the fore in ‘The Welcome’ [which pokes fun at the grammatical correctness of the narrator who writes a full page missive pointing out the grammatical and textural errors in a four line advertisement], Team Men’ and ‘Speaking in Tongues’. In the latter, two points of view are intertwined, that of an established poet, Sylvia Dwyer, and a teenager, Lee Maloney, but thanks to the wonders of typeface there is no confusion. In contrast, ‘Team Men’ was less convincing, the weakest offering in the collection.
The majority of these stories are between 12-20 pages and are quickly read. However, their characters and implications remain in the memory. It is evident from the writing that the characters are also meaningful to their author.