ALTERNATIVE LOVES

Edited by David MARCUS

Pub: Martello Press
This collection of stories, edited by a man who surely haSean encyclopaedic knowledge of the modem Irish short story, proves rather conclusively (I fear) that alternative sexualities were not a major concern of Iish authors.

I found the first item, Sean O Faolain’s How to Write a Short Story rather unpleasant, indeed anti-Gay, and rather awkwardly written. William Trevor’s Torridge iSean oddity in this setting. All of the characters are of the English public-school type. The story is well constructed, but hardly life-enhancing. (I realise that this collection is not liberationist agitation, but surely the fact that most
of the stories are down-beat is relevant to a review of the first such collection?) .

I will deal with the “well-made” traditional stories fIrst. They are all well written. Ita Daly’s Such Good Friends, Ray Lynott’s: April, Val Mulkrn’s Memory and Desire, and John Jordan’s He Lay: Down on Me, all end in rejection or despair, or both. Ray Lynott’s’ story being the best-written and most subtle, Jordan’s being quite crude and unpleasant.
Of the others, Edna O’Brien’s The Mouth of the Cave barely exists, while Padraig Rooney’s Tabernacles is too ornate for its own good. Colum McCann’s Breakfast for Enrique is a trifle dour, but: well-written and heartening. It reads like the precis of a novel, rather than a ‘real’ short story. It deals with full-blown AIDS. Terry Prone also deals with HIV/AIDS, in a tremendously spirited and invigorat ing way, in Blood Brothers, Soul Sisters.

Three of the stories are meant to be funny, or at least amusing. Julia O Faolain’s The Widow’s Boy – a well-trodden path, but very well done. Frank Rowan’s Ringsend is a very funny yarn about a prissy Dublin queen who faces the ultimate horror… no, My Lips Are Sealed – read it yourself.

I enjoyed Patrick Boyle’s Shaybo, even though it is positively raucous. He is the only person from The (Wee Black) North represented in this collection.

I also found Emma Donoghue’s story Going Back very enjoyable and, thankfully, upbeat. But while it involved two Gay-identified young Irish people (of different sexes, having what reads remarkably.like a sexual relationship), they are in London.
Irish writers seem to fmd alternative loves rather exotic, as witnessed by the settings – France, San Francisco, London (it’s exotic if you’re queer in Kiltimagh). We also have the Stage, the Gaeltacht (in Ray Lynott’s April the unrequited love of a young priest for a beautiful brown-skinned ferryman) and in Desmond Hogan’s A Poet, and an Englishman the English poet is discovered by his complaisant wife in the arms of a teenage Traveller. You don’t get much more exotic than that.

Like all anthologies, this is uneven, but one hopes that the next such effort is full of the likes of Emma Donoghue and Colum McCann, and isn’t padded out with stuff from old hands like William Trevor, whose story here is from a British and specifically English tradition. It is not really about love: it is about wild justice.

Brian Finnegan’s cover is a bit odd (it shows two fully-dressed’ men being intimate), given that the book is sub-titled Irish Gay and: Lesbian Stories, and that half the contributors are women.

[S. McGouran]

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