GALWAY WRITER Brian Coughlan is a clever comedic writer in the Alan McMonagle/Karl MacDermott mode. His characters tend to be no good types, the sort who, in what the career guidance teachers of my youth called the real world, end up in middle management, or as unsuccessful Fianna Fáil county council candidates. Such characters populate Coughlan's short story collection, Wattle & Daub.
In ‘Human Resources’, Coughlan lays bare the great contemporary evil that is human resource management. Anna, an employee harboring a pretty understandable grudge, decides she has had enough of fuming in private, and gets proactive.
In a touching gesture of reconciliation she bakes a cake for the office celebration of her nemesis, Rebecca’s, promotion; the announcement of which is greeted with general applause but to which Anna responds by clapping “her hands together so softly they made no sound whatsoever.” The cake Anna made for her co-worker’s celebration is of course poisoned. They gobble it up without even stopping to offer her a slice.
'Everything is changed by their evening of love because now David is pregnant and will give birth to an alarm clock which will, as is usual in such cases, be expelled from his anus'
‘Ill Conceived’ is the story which has, perhaps, garnered most attention for Coughlan. Rose, and her hapless husband David, works in an office where ‘“They” don’t ever listen to “his” opinions. “They” don’t respect “his” endeavours.” Rose knows “Her husband is a useless piece of spineless flesh.” What is more, of late he’s been incapable of making love to her – lacking either the inclination or the energy. A problem, given the couple are trying to conceive.
This time though Rose is not about to take no for an answer; even if it is not exactly a spiritually uplifting experience. So bad that afterwards David weeps into the toilet bowl, while Rose cries down the telephone line to a complete stranger she has randomly dialled. Everything is changed by their evening of love because now David is pregnant and will give birth to an alarm clock which will, as is usual in such cases, be expelled from his anus.
Brian Coughlan is a witty writer. I hope in his subsequent stories he has the courage to sidestep the glibness that mars much contemporary comedic writing and go all the way into the dark with the phobias and hatreds of which great comedy is made.