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Desert Solitaire
by Edward Abbey

Modern Irish Short Stories

Modern Irish Short StoriesModern Irish Short Stories

Ben Forkner (ed.)

Modern Irish Short Stories.  The low-hanging fruit would be to try to describe what makes these stories essentially Irish, to extol the poetic nature of the Irish temperament, to explain why that poetic nature lends itself to short fiction, etc.  That would be the low-hanging fruit.  And I like to work, so I’ll not go for the low-hanging fruit, sweet though it may look.  Instead I shall speak of “Dante and the Lobster”.

Samuel BeckettI’ve read Samuel Beckett before, of course — the surreal drama of Waiting for Godot, the minimalist prose of Fizzles.  And so I was wholly unprepared for “Dante and the Lobster”.  Here was Beckett, just telling a story.  A regular story with a beginning, a middle, and an end.  The beginning: Belacqua, having finished his morning reading of Dante, makes his lunch of toast and gorgonzola.  The middle: he procures a lobster and takes it to his Italian lesson, where it is nearly stolen by the French tutor’s cat.  The end: Belacqua is horrified to find that his aunt intends to boil the lobster alive in its own personal inferno.  Clever tag line and finis.  A fun story, a humorous character sketch, and so much more lucid than anything I would expect from Samuel Beckett.  Who knew he was capable of it?

In general, the stories that I enjoyed in this volume were the ones that make light of death, illness, alcoholism, the human condition.  Some of the authors have an almost Buddhist-like take on these things: death finds us, like it or not.  You can laugh about it or you can cry about it, but it finds us just the same.  So why not laugh about it?  Why not make light and enjoy the ride?  The stories I didn’t like were the ones that take it so godawful seriously.  Lovers leave us, family members cheat us, disease takes us, woe is mankind.  Well, yeah — they do.  But why tell that story?  We’ve already lived it a thousand times over.  Tell me instead about the toast; tell me about the lobster.  Pathos we all experience similarly, but humor is quirky; humor is individual.  The sad songs are all sung the same way; it’s the manic ones that bring something new into the world, and those are the ones that I prefer to hear.