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Stories: McGahern, Monson, McCann

Two stories and one sort-of-story, all of them excellent, have crossed my radar recently.

The late John McGahern's "Creatures of the Earth" has an elegaic mood which, combined with its themes of fading gentry, loss and grief, reminds me a lot of William Trevor, one of my favorite recent discoveries. The quiet strength of this lovely story tells me I should explore McGahern's writing in much more depth.

Ander Monson's "Everyone Looks Better When They're Under Arrest" is a touching metaphor for something critically missing from a couple's relationship (as represented by the absence of a stove in their home) as well as a subtle indictment of the vacuous fakery of reality television. Incidentally, this entire issue of Ploughshares (Spring 2006) has probably the finest collection of fiction that I've ever seen in a single issue of a literary journal, with equally strong contributions by Mary Gordon ("Eleanor's Music"), Cristina Henriquez ("Chasing Birds"), Valerie Laken ("Spectators") and Ghita Schwarz ("Oral Histories"). This issue is definitely worth checking out.

And while this excerpt from Zoli, the new novel from Colum McCann (whom I mentioned here recently) isn't a short story per se, it does stand pretty well on its own. In this passage, a city journalist has just entered a Gypsy village, looking for information on an exiled poet.

Doorframes used as tables. Sackcloth for curtains. Empty čuču bottles strung up as wind chimes. At his feet, bits of wood and porridge containers, lollipop sticks and shattered glass, the ground-down bones of some dead animal. He catches glimpses of babies hammocked from ceilings, flies buzzing around them as they sleep. He reaches for his instamatic but is pushed on in the swell of children. Open doorways are quickly closed. Bare bulbs switched off. He notices carpets on the walls, and pictures of Christ, and pictures of Lenin, and pictures of Mary Magdalene, and pictures of Saint Jude lit by small red candles high above empty shelves. From everywhere comes the swell of music, no accordions, no harps, no violins, but every shack with a TV or a radio on full volume, an endless thump.
McCann's eye for detail is marvelous, as is the depiction of the naïveté of the protagonist, who expected the Gypsy village to be filled with indigenous music, accordians and fiddles played by natives, when in fact the only music comes from TV's and radios fed by satellite dishes. A nice touch, indeed.

(McCann link via Max at The Millions.)

January 3, 2007 in Books | Permalink

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