Follow by Email


A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

To read about movies and TV shows I'm watching, visit my other blog: Elliot's Watching

Sunday, January 4, 2015

A look at the lives the marginalized in current New Yorker story

Colin Barrett's story The Ways is a good, and rare, example of a short story that conveys the life of young people living in poverty and dire straits in a direct, honest, and sympathetic manner. Let's face it, most fiction writers do not come from backgrounds of childhood poverty and trauma, weren't the kids who dropped out of school at 16, weren't the ones who were repeatedly suspended from school for fighting and bullying, and, although clearly writers are not bound to write exclusively from their own experiences, all of us are bound in some way by the conditions of our lives, and the occasional writer who examines the lives of the downtrodden and oppressed generally does so at one remove - either with some bleeding-heart sentimentality or with condescension, or even both. I know nothing about Barrett and his background but he has a great ear for dialog, eye for detail, and either a wealth of experience - either from his own life or observed life - or vivid imagination (or both, probably). This story, set in contemporary Ireland and told in an Irish working-class dialect that's odd and challenging to American (and maybe British) readers, is about an orphaned family of three more or less mostly less being raised by 20-something brother who'd had a reputation as a drinker and womanizer but is now trying to settle down, working as a dishwasher in a hotel restaurant in a working-class area outside of Dublin, the 16-year-old sister who's dropped out of school, and the younger brother - story centers on one day when the boy is suspended and on the efforts of the older siblings to deal with this immediate issue and to keep the family intact, to keep food on the table. It's a snapshot story - no particular arc to the narrative, no sense of conclusion or resolution, in fact it ends on a deliberately open note, with a question. In that sense it's not a great story, but it's a compelling and credible look at the lives of those marginalized, in literature and in life.

No comments:

Post a Comment