Stories you would not find in Ireland’s Own
By Kevin Higgins
NAZISM IS something of a theme for Galway born, New York based writer Seamus Scanlon in his new short story collection, As Close As You’ll Ever Be, published by Cairn Press.
In ‘Killing The Laffeys’ the narrator speaks of Galway’s fondness for its dead: “We prefer them...We brought back the high-impact fascist and Radio Berlin star William Joyce to Galway.” Lord Haw Haw was reinterred in the New Cemetery in 1976. He was joined there in 2011 by my Mother; I’m sure they have the most excellent conversations.
The Nazism really gets going in the fantastically dark ‘Infected’. A 12-year-old boy writes away to join the “National Socialist Workers’ Party of Great Britain and Ireland”. His induction papers arrive by post, “an embossed eagle” on the envelope. The narrator finds the instructions contained therein impossible to carry out:
“The aim of seducing Aryan maidens would be a problem since I was pathologically shy. When asked at family weddings or birthdays to dance with girls, I refused and blushed. I turned and then goose-stepped away.” But there is a happy ending. Our hero can find no “undesirables” in Galway.
A local black family, the waiters in the Chinese restaurant, and a gay bookshop owner are all people he finds in some way admirable. He “likes” them, which for a 12-year-old out to bring the Third Reich to Galway is a bit of a problem.
Scanlon is an excellently hilarious writer. The opening of ‘Listen To Me’ – a story without any Nazis at all in it – is so good it would be impolite to do anything but read on: “I killed my stepfather when I was almost fifteen. Nobody saw it coming, especially him.”
First Book Of Frags (Wurm Press) is Dave Lordan’s first collection of short fiction. Lordan is a literary extremist in the tradition of Louis Ferdinand Celine and esteemed literary and sexual acrobat, the Marquis de Sade. Not only is he not trying to write mere updates of the Irish short story; many of his stories are not even stories in any traditional sense. ‘Kathleen is just a word we’ll never settle’ begins strangely:
“When Kathleen came home my father died.
When Kathleen took off her clothes at the wake I saw, for the very first time, the whole island of Ireland.”
This non-story then spends five pages getting better and better. I do not know exactly what it is about, but I have several ideas. Lordan is a writer who forces the reader to imagine. In ‘The Iron Lady’ his delightful strangeness is at work again:
“When the Iron Lady died we melted her down immediately. After some debate (coinage, medals, spearheads, an unique musical instrument, an elaborate candle stand…?) we decided to divide her and use her to make five Alloy Ladies.”
The term “Iron Lady” brings one deceased former British prime minister absolutely to mind; when I try to imagine who the five “Alloy Ladies” might be, the first name that pops to mind is Mario Draghi, leader of a sub-Thatcherite group of economic terrorists who usually go by the initials ECB.
My favourite story, ‘Becoming Polis’, includes the liveliest job advertisement I’ve seen in years: “must be a quiet unobtrusive person with EXCELLENT PERSONAL HYGIENE…I will not have sex with you in general but very occasionally I might, so you must produce a certificate of sexual health.”
In the good old days this book would have been banned and men in raincoats would have smuggled copies in through customs. First Book of Frags is a dark pleasure in which you cannot but indulge.