Disclaimer: ARC read via NetGalley and Open Road Media
Certain places enter the imagination, and for whatever reason Ireland is one of those places. Perhaps more recently, those views have been influenced by such shows as Ballykissangel, or movies such as Undine. Who knowsPerhaps Yeats had something to do with it. Or perhaps, most likely, it is because of the Diaspora that occurred in the country.
O’Connor’s short stories speak to the reader because while they are Ireland, they are also everywhere. Take for instance, “Even if there were only two men in the world and both of them saints they wouldn’t be happy. One of them would be bound to try and improve the other. That is the nature of things.” The story, “Song Without Words” might be describing two Irish men, but everyone knows the truth of the statement.
O’Connor’s stories focus on the everyday people, lower middle class, not upper class and not really those living below the poverty. They exist in a time that is at once secure and fluid. There is a priest who attempts to confront a girl about her wayward ways, though it isn’t so much those ways not annoy him. There is the struggle to get something for Christmas, young boys adjusting to the arrival of younger brothers, there is a story of a marriage (or is it a marriage), men who don’t understand their women, women who want their men to own up, and women who run with the man’s money. The class of characters is drawn with board and sure strokes, the oldest daughter stepping up as mother just as believable as the man with his circus animals.
The choices and hardships that the characters face are not those that will change society or the world, but they are those choices and hardships that can change a life, can make or break a person. For all that, they become far more dangerous and humorous than slaying the dragon or saving the prime minster.
Yeats called O’Connor the Irish Chekov, but in many ways he is also like Joyce in the power and resonance of his short stories. If you enjoyed Dubliners, give O’Connor a try.