This collection of short stories was published in 2018 and takes some of the best stories published in the pages of The Stinging Fly since its inception in 1998.
Featuring works by writers who won, were shortlisted and longlisted for the 2019 Sunday Times Short Story Award, (Danielle McLaughlin, Kevin Barry and Wendy Erskine respectively) these really are stories by writers who are masters in their craft.
There is no over-riding theme to connect these 40 stories, but one of the things that does seem to connect them is the exploration of the outsider, of the person who is not quite comfortable in their environment – whether because of geography, circumstance or personal conflict.
It’s also a reflection of a changing Ireland, with stories as diverse as Keith Ridgeway’s exploration of a young gay male prostitute in New York City to Grace Joliffe’s touching tale of an older woman beginning to explore her sexuality in her twilight years.
I approached the book as I would a novel but quickly found that there was simply too much depth for this to be comfortable (almost like trying to eat a box of very rich chocolates in one sitting). There’s too much to linger over, with dialogue that is spot-on in its authenticity and characters that come alive from the page, their lives and experiences painted with astonishing immediacy.
This book feels a little like the Forth Road Bridge – I can foresee that I will never truly be ‘finished’ but keep dipping in and out of the stories for many years to come. Or at least, until the 40 year anniversary edition…