Being Various is a collection of new, especially commissioned short stories curated by Lucy Caldwell. It takes in the whole island, with the list of contributors reading like a who’s who of award-winning contemporary Irish short story writers. Kevin Barry’s ‘Who’s Dead McCarthy’ brings Dublin to life with a poignant vernacular whilst Eimear McBride plays with form and energy in the way we have become accustomed to. The roll call also includes the wonderful Wendy Erskine, Nicole Flattery, Danielle McLaughlin and Sally Rooney.
In the introduction, Caldwell outlines her vision for the collection, discussing what makes a writer Irish and explaining that the starting point is the Good Friday Agreement. In keeping with the exploration of ‘Irishness’, there are a number of stories of writers with different heritages, such as Yan Ge’s haunting tale about falling in love with a boy after he commits suicide (‘How I fell in love with Alex Whelan’), which is a beautiful and timely exploration of the boundaries (or lack of) between real life and online personalities. Finnish writer Arja Kajermo explores the notion of being an outsider in Ireland.
We see the North in Erskine’s work and Adrian McKinty’s ‘Jack’s Return Home’, filled with the menace of close community and parochial Northern Ireland. Sinead Gleeson’s ‘The Lexicon of Babies’ is a tale both surreal and cautionary and made me determined to read her much-lauded Constellations. With so many short story writers filling the awards rosters, there are many superb short story collections filling the shelves, including ‘Belfast Stories’ edited by Paul McVeigh and Lisa Frank and Stinging Fly Stories (reviewed here). For readers keen to find out what all the fuss is about with Irish story story writing, this is an excellent place to start.