Thursday, October 4, 2012

Reading Journal: Saints and Sinners, by Edna O'Brien (2011)

I will still, eventually, read her controversial - at the time, in 1960 - first book, The Country Girls, but unfortunately this was not the collection for me. In many cases - a common complaint with short stories I've read lately - I found O'Brien layering on the detail, and my eyes glazing over as she did. I'd like to know when exactly Alice Munro said the line quoted on the cover, that O'Brien "writes the most beautiful, aching stories of any writer, anywhere," because her style struck me as almost out of date. There's a classicism in her work, though, and I can pick up the same elements of Chekhov and Woolf in these stories that we find in Munro, Cythia Ozick, etc., particularly in "Manhattan Medley" where Woolf is referenced directly. The stories among the 11 that I did enjoy were the grittier "Shovel Kings," in which a man comes unwound in the wake of job-site fatality; "Madame Cassandra," a more mystically-styled tale of visiting a fortune-teller, and the aforementioned "Medley," whose action turns around an affair. When the author stepped out of her default and somewhat flat style is when I liked her best, and though she nailed the old style in "Medley," in the other stories it just didn't grab me.

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