Tag Archives: short stories

God and grace are everywhere in Brian Doyle’s world

October 31, 2011

0 Comments

It’s 5:59 a.m. on a Wednesday and I’m reading and laughing aloud at one end of the house, trying not to stir Sleeping Beauty at the other end. Five days later, at 6:05 a.m., instant replay. Brian Doyle and “Grace Notes” is to blame.

This is writing to savor in the silence and holiness before the rest of the world wakens.

Goodness the man can write.

Lord he can tell a story.

In “Grace Notes” Doyle tells 37 of them, about himself,  about his family, about people and things you’d never think someone would write about but when you’d finished reading you were glad Brian Doyle became a writer.

There’s a good balance of Doyle stories and other people stories in this 148-page Acta Publications paperback. He goes into tell-all phase about his interior life. He’s an amazingly acute observer of his kids and his wife, who he is quick to admit he doesn’t understand. That’s the laugh-aloud funny stuff.

But he’s at his best giving voice to others, a wonderfully eclectic mix whose lives you’ll be so glad you entered — even if vicariously through ink on paper.

There’s the woman on the bus who talks about wanting to have a child but whose husband is apprehensive, the parents dropping off their daughter for college and crying as they do so, the people behind the stories behind those white crosses we all see on the side of the highway.

Hope is everywhere

Doyle sees the grace in every corner of life. Here’s what I mean — you’ll recognize a key phrase in this quote:

“Look, I know very well that brooding misshapen evil is everywhere, in the brightest houses and the most cheerful denials, in what we do and what we have failed to do, and I know all too well that the story of the world is entropy, things fly apart, we sicken, we fail, we grow weary, we divorce, we are hammered and hounded by loss and accidents and tragedies. But I also know, with all my hoary muddled heart, that we are carved of immense confusing holiness; that the whole point for us is grace under duress; and that you either take a flying leap at nonsensical illogical unreasonable ideas like marriage and marathons and democracy and divinity, or you huddle behind the wall. I believe that the coolest things there are cannot be measured, calibrated, calculated, gauged, weighed, or understood except sometimes by having a child patiently explain it to you, which is another thing that should happen far more often to us all.

“In short, I believe in believing, which doesn’t make sense, which gives me hope.”

My favorite might be the story of the man who, as both a policeman in his town and a soldier, is the one who knocks on doors to tell mothers and father and wives and husbands that their son or daughter or husband or wife is dead.

The holiness pours from this man in his respect for people, his respect for life. Catch this, through Doyle’s writing: “You mostly just listen. People tell stories. Often their first reaction, after the initial shock and grief, is to tell stories….People tell me I should write them down but I feel that they are private stories, you know, stories that only came to me because someone’s heart broke in the kitchen.”

Finally, you won’t want to miss Doyle’s amazing lists of who is going to get into heaven and how they’ll be scrutinized — and by whom — before being allowed in. It’s priceless. Doyle is one of our generation’s great Catholic writers.– bz

Continue reading...

What are people thinking? McNabb’s short stories offer insight into others – and ourselves

February 17, 2009

0 Comments


“the body of this,”
by Andrew McNabb

Andrew McNabb penetrated the heads of dozens of characters, discovered their thoughts, and reports his findings in “the body of this.”

Often, it’s brilliant.

It’s writing filled both with humanity and a sense of place, descriptive in a way that refuses to ignore who and what we pass by everyday but fail to see.

Especially who.

The setting for most of the often very brief short stories in McNabb’s collection (published in paperback by Warren Machine Company) is Portland, Maine – and the old portion of Portland. The people whose minds McNabb has invaded are God’s people – church-going, Catholic people – and for the most part believable and real.

Meet some faith-filled folk

Take Terry, the central character of one short story who takes the approach to customer service that “could only, only be provided by loving your neighbor with all your might.”

Meet Lydia, the immigrant trying to dress well and fit in at high school.

There’s Frank, the lonely senior citizen serving food to the needy in the church basement who feels misunderstood.

And that young couple who decorated the baby’s room in anticipation of their first child only to…no, you’d better read that one yourself.

Lots of winners, but not all

McNabb writes some pretty weird stuff, too. When someone can bring together both reality and a sense of imagination the way he can, a reader has to wonder why he stoops to vulgarity at times.

It’s offensive. And unnecessary.

I say unnecessary because the empathy McNabb has for what some might call the least of God’s people is truly eye-opening, a blessing for his readers.

His insight into America’s obsession with losing weight is gorgeously brought out in the little more than four pages of the tightly written “Habeas Corpus.”

And the first-person story about a lottery winner – “It’s What It Feels Like” – is a marvelously-told piece of work that’s more about marriage – and the sometimes one-sideness of marriage – than about winning millions.

Is it what it looks like?

Or is it what it feels like?

And how about us?

What are all those people thinking, the ones we live with, the ones we work with and study with and volunteer with – and love?

What’s really on their minds?– bz

Continue reading...

Irish humor lives in the global village

July 28, 2008

0 Comments

“THE DEPORTEES AND OTHER STORIES,”
by Roddy Doyle

Ireland has changed.

The Ireland that for so many years forced its native population to leave has in recent times, seen a booming economy, so people struggling in other parts of the world are flocking to this new land of opportunity, Ireland.

Thank God Roddy Doyle is alive and well and writing to capture the turn around, and doing it in the manner that causes laugh-out-loud reading.

As always with Doyle, the humor percolates from human nature. His fiction takes advantage of the typically funny way the Irish have of dealing with life. He celebrates the joys in understated ways, but more often Doyle taps the embarrassing moments, exposing those insecurities that anyone human might laugh at, getting the largest chuckles from the instances when bigotry is revealed for what it is, when his characters realize the foot they’ve put into their own mouths, when David bests Goliath because of the big oaf’s self-righteousness.

“The Deportees” is the longest of the eight short stories, and arguably the richest. Doyle revives Jimmy Rabbitte, the main character of “The Commitments,” his story about a young Irish lad who loves soul music and puts together a soul band.

Rabbitte is grown up now, but he still loves music enough to name his children — besides Jimmy Two — Mahalia and Marvin, and wants to name the one his wife is carrying Aretha if its a girl, Smokey if it’s a boy.

He gets the idea for a band composed of members from around the globe who have come to call Ireland home, and the fun gets going big time as Jimmy opens auditions.

In all the stories, “The Deportees” included, the hard edge of dealing with racial and national prejudice rides right along side the humor.

In “57% Irish,” Doyle takes on the idea of how Irish you have to be considered one, and in “Black Hoodie” he’s crafted a combination of “Black Like Me” and “Ferris Bueler’s Day Off” that points a finger at many of our biases — and you don’t have to live on the Emerald Isle to see them in our own society and in ourselves.

He also has the wonderful ability to put himself into his characters and let them speak about their situation. And, if we learn a little bit about what a refugee to Ireland sees and feels, maybe — just maybe — we’ll be a bit more sympathetic to the immigrants who’ve come to our own land and our own communities in search of work, safety and freedom.

Fair warning: Some of the human is earthy and sexual; this is a book for mature audiences. — bz

Continue reading...