I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

Home Uncategorized Moving from the Familiar

Moving from the Familiar

People in My Brain, by Pat O’Connor, Limerick Writers’ Centre, 133 pp, €12, ISBN: 978-1916065345 About ten years ago, I was invited to lead the annual August Kavanagh Weekend in Inniskeen, Co Monaghan. There were fourteen people in the workshop and to my surprise only three of them brought poems. The rest wrote memoir pieces or a chapter of a novel or a short story. Pat O’Connor’s story stood out and I found it compelling. It made an immediate connection with the reader from the first sentence. According to Sean O’Faoláin, that is the first job of a short story writer. To make “an immediate and intimate connection” with the person who sits down to read a story. A couple of years later in 2011, O Connor’s story “The Haggard” won the Seán O’Faoláin International Short Story Prize run my Munster Literature Centre. What is interesting to me about O’Connor’s book People in My Brain is that many of the stories begin in a familiar place. In “Advice and Sandwiches”, a young woman leaves her office at lunchtime, passed over yet again for promotion, despite her work rate and her conscientiousness. In addition, her boyfriend is about to leave her for somebody more “exciting.” On the street near her workplace, she comes across a line of people queuing for “advice and sandwiches”. In the most unlikely situation she gains an experience that changes her. Change, Anne Enright reminds us, is primarily what the short story is about. “Something is known at the end of a short story – or nearly known — that was not known before.” (Introduction, The Granta Book of the Irish Short Story). What I admire about the stories in People in My Brain is that many of the openings leap off the page, though the title suggests that these “people” are more imagined than real. According to the great Mary Lavin, the short story writer must know the characters from the beginning. A novelist has time to develop and get to know his characters, to find out who they are and how they will act. A short story is “an arrow in flight.” (“An Arrow in Flight: The Pleasures of Mary Lavin”, Paris Review, June 12th, 2012). Many of Pat O’Connor’s stories are set in an apparently familiar world, and move to somewhere unfamiliar, extraordinary, or dystopic. In “Keeper Hill” Timmy Ryan wonders if he will watch Limerick in the Munster football…

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