Sunday 19 November 2017

Short stories from Dubliner Andrew Fox: The ever so subtle art of the glimpse

Young Dubliner Andrew Fox has put together an arresting collection of short stories, writes John Boland

Homegrown: Irish author Andrew Fox, who is now based in New York, has written a book of short stories, ‘Over Our Heads’, the first collection to be published by Penguin Ireland
Homegrown: Irish author Andrew Fox, who is now based in New York, has written a book of short stories, ‘Over Our Heads’, the first collection to be published by Penguin Ireland

John Boland

Another week, another book of Irish short stories - and this is despite the commonly accepted wisdom that there's no market for story collections by new authors, and that what's wanted from them are novels instead.

But if that's the case, no one seems to have told the publishers, who in recent times have given us arresting debut collections by Claire Keegan, Philip O Ceallaigh, Kevin Barry, Michael J Farrell, Mary Costello, Orfhlaith Foyle, Aiden O'Reilly and Colin Barrett - the last-named winning the Guardian First Book Award for his Young Skins collection and also currently in the running, along with two other Irish writers, for the £30,000 Sunday Times short story prize.

The latest contributor to a form at which Irish writers have always excelled is Andrew Fox, a Dubliner who is 30 this year and some of whose stories have been published in The Stinging Fly, the magazine that has done so much to foster the talents of emerging short story writers.

William Trevor, who is perhaps the greatest living master of the short story (devotees of Alice Munro might disagree) once described it as "the art of the glimpse", though in some of Fox's weaker stories, a glimpse is all you get: tantalising situations either not really going anywhere or the reader left feeling that the author has been flailing for a satisfactory ending.

But the best of these stories are very good indeed. Now living in New York, Fox has set some of the stories there, though in each of them the main character (usually a first-person narrator) is an expat Irishman, mostly around the same age as the author. However, in the case of 'The Navigator' he's a successful middle-aged man with a teenage daughter who wants to learn more about her Irish roots.

"I'd like to be a better Irishwoman," she declares before setting out on a trip to Ireland with her father. By the end, though, she's "had it up to here with all these f...ing sad songs".

That particular story conveys a poignant sense of displacement and of generational dislocation, too. Though in other stories, the divide is more often between the male narrator and the young woman with whom he's either in a relationship or with whom he longs for a relationship - as in 'Two Fires', where Julian clearly desires something more from Chloe than the business partnership that has taken them to pitch a social media campaign in Boston.

Then there's the mismatched young couple in 'Are You Still There?', the Manhattan-based narrator belatedly discovering that the pregnancy which has reunited himself and his American girlfriend is not of his doing.

A couple of the Dublin stories are just as striking. In 'Graduation' a bitterly separated couple endure the Trinity College conferral of their son, who's fearful of a scene erupting between his parents.

In 'A Vigil', the combative married couple are nonetheless "a source of comfort for each other, through our failures and through our shared loss of youth", the narrator arguing that "of lesser things are lasting marriages made".

While there are few happy souls in these arresting stories, the reader can find consolation in Fox's supple prose and frequently subtle insights.

Short stories

Over Our Heads

Andrew Fox

Penguin Ireland, pbk, 224 pages, €14.99

Available with free P&P on www.kennys.ie or by calling 091 709350

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