There are many ways we can celebrate St. Patrick’s Day: go on a bender, kiss everyone in sight, projectile vomit into some shrubbery, be the bastard who pinches someone for not wearing an appropriate amount of green, or all of the above. In addition to the general acts of vandalism and stupidity that will take place in a matter of hours, we suggest you pick up a copy of The Granta Book of the Irish Short Story, edited by Anne Enright. We’ve come up with a list of ten contemporary Irish authors you need to know, because they’re masters of their craft, and because you’re going to need a big book to hide under when you commute to work tomorrow.
As Enright writes in the introduction: “If Ireland loves you, then you must be doing something wrong.” Here’s to the dreamers, the misanthropes, and the lonely souls contained in this collection, and long live the short story.
1. Colum McCann – “Everything in this Country Must”
A girl and her father attempt to save a horse caught in a deluge. Katie says, “He gave me the length of rope with the harness clip and I knew what to do.” McCann won the National Book Award for his last novel, Let the Great World Spin, about the death-defying feats of funambulist Philippe Petit.
2. Claire Keegan – “Men and Women”
Keegan writes about a strained relationship between a couple attending a New Year’s Eve dance and the through the eyes of their young daughter. Antarctica is Keegan’s highly-praised debut, which The Observer proclaimed to be “among the finest contemporary stories to be published in English.”
3. Colm Tóibín – “A Priest in the Family”
The author of Brooklyn writes about an elderly woman who receives a visit from her local priest one day, telling her that her pious son has molested his students. Her daughter arrives to console her, only to be met with the hostility of a woman who was kept in the dark.
4. John McGahern – “The Key”
“As an army in peacetime their main occupation was boredom.” This story details the death of a character known as The Sergeant, and the fate of the youth that are under his care. McGahern’s best-known novel, Amongst Women, tells the story of an obstinate IRA veteran who intimidates his family into submission.
5. Mary Lavin – “Lilacs”
Ros and her husband, Phelim, live with two prissy daughters who are ashamed that their father made his money through peddling dung. It’s an interesting take on class and gender issues by this notable short story author who published her first short story collection in the early 1940s. In a Cafe is a recent compilation of Lavin’s short stories, as chosen by her daughter, Elizabeth.
6. Neil Jordan – “Night in Tunisia”
“He became obsessed with twilights; he would wait for them, observe them, he would taste them as he would a sacrament.” An oversexed teenage boy drifts through a summer and daydreams about an older girl. Jordan’s latest novel, Mistaken , was released last year.
7. Éilís Ní Dhuibhne – “Midwife to the Fairies”
In this story, a midwife is called on one night to assist a woman in labor, only to have to keep a terrible secret from the police in the days that follow. Dhuibhne’s novel, Fox, Swallow, Scarecrow is an Irish take on Anna Karenina.
8. Seán Ó Faoláin – “The Trout”
In this compact story, Ó Faoláin writes about a girl and her younger brother who find a “panting trout” in shallow waters. For those interested in following Ó Faoláin’s footsteps, the annual Seán Ó Faoláin Short Story Prize is sponsored by the Munster Literature Centre, and offers a 1,500 Euro prize to the winner.
9. Clare Boylan – “Villa Marta”
Sally and Rose are two young women on the hunt for a good time while in Spain: “They wondered if you were hopelessly, truly in love, would you know because you would even think a man’s thing was nice-looking.” Boylan’s Victorian mystery, Emma Brown, uses Charlotte Brontë’s last manuscript as the first two chapters of this novel.
10. William Trevor – “The Dressmaker’s Child”
This heartbreaking story was published in The New Yorker in 2004, and Trevor received an O. Henry Award for it in 2006. His novel, Love and Summer , was released last year, and was a nominee for the Man Booker Prize. Trevor is known as a short story writer, and those who have read him consistently put him at the top of their list of favorite writers. The man can do no wrong.