Anne Enright, book reviews, books, Fiction, Irish fiction, Irish literature, Irish short stories, Literature, Sex in Literature, Short Stories, Women's Fiction, Women's Literature, Yesterday's Weather
Sex runs through Anne Enright’s short story collection “Yesterday’s Weather”. This is not erotic sex. It is biologic. The emotion of one night stands. I described Ms. Enright’s collection as Irish Women’s Literature to a writer friend of mine who thought Ms. Enright’s writing was mean. There is some man bashing, but it is more critical in its description of Ireland’s adult Irish population. My friend having a little fun with my categorization, ask me what I thought of Irish Man’s Literature. She wanted to know if there would be a Woman Booker prize.
I should note that I have begun Ms. Enright’s Booker Prize finalist novel “The Gathering”. In the early stage of the book, it does not seem to have the sexual theme that this short story collection does. What is interesting about the collection, is that it is arranged chronologically from latest to earliest. Ms. Enright states she found it interesting to reread her earlier stories, which she would write differently today. I would be interested to see a current version of those stories to see how her perspective and style has changed. She views her earlier works as being unduly critical of middle age. She recants having reached it. She admits that an author shouldn’t revisit history. It reflects who they were at the time. I found a few of the earlier stories, more interesting than her more recent ones.
One of the earlier stories is “Mr. Snip Snip Snip”. While the plot concerns the an infidelity of a video projectionist wife, the theme is editing we do in life. “Frank sometimes wondered where it all went, the stuff he threw away; smiles, swear-words, faces that slid out of focus. There is a parallel universe, he thought, in “Star Trek”, made up of all the out-takes; the fluffs, blunders and bad (worse) acting that never made it to the final cut. A world where Captain Kirk says ‘shit’ and Spock’s ears become detached. Perhaps the story is better over there. He thought of a universe made up of all the different silences that are nipped, tucked and disposed of. The silence of a hospital at night, the silence when a woman forgets what to say, the silence of a politician. They have to go somewhere. It is a terrible crime, Frank thought, to throw away a silence.”
“Luck Be a Lady” is also an earlier story. The plot is a happily married Irish woman who has a gift for numbers that has earned her the hatred of her community because she wins all the Bingo money. She ultimately forgets how to count when she wins in adultery.
How adulterous affairs are handled differently. In “Yesterday’s Weather”, the younger other woman is killed in an accident. The husband is crushed. The wife indifferently accepts the affair as part of marriage. In “Revenge”, an earlier story, the wife seeks revenge through swapping. What is most interesting about this story is the misdirections to get to the plot. It begins: “I work for a firm which manufactures rubber gloves. There are many kinds of protective gloves, from the surgical and veterinary (arms-length) to industrial, gardening and domestic. They have in common a niceness. They all imply revulsion. You might not handle a dead mouse without a pair of rubber gloves, someone else might not handle a baby. I need not tell you that shops in Soho sell nuns’ outfits made of rubber, that some grown men long for the rubber under-blanket of their infancies, that rubber may save the human race. Rubber is a morally, as well as sexually, exciting material. It provides us all with an elastic amnesty, to piss the bed, to pick up dead things, to engage in sexual practices, to not touch whomsoever we please.”
The older stories take more risks than the later ones. In this class I would put “Men and Angels”. Some newer stories have captivating first lines. “Wife” begins: “There was a new woman behind the counter in the news-agent’s and it took Noel a while to realize that her throat had been slit. …. With a scar like that, you’d want to be careful about throwing your head back in case the damn thing fell off… He wanted to see her do it. Idiot that he was.”
Emotionally I liked “Della”. It was about a widow and widower, the former who while their spouses were alive hated the crude neighbor who in a Fall romance she learns was just trying to gain her attention.
Ms. Enright is a capable writer, but a collection of relationship stories grounded in cold sex and bitterness is a bit wearing. At times I wondered if they were written just because sex sells and it would gain publication. She writes well enough not to make it mandatory. I am interested to find out if “The Gathering” takes a different path.