Thursday, August 22, 2013

Dark, heavy, dreary stories?

Famine memorial, Dublin.

I have written five short pieces for my introductory‎ course in creative writing. All five are gloomy and joyless in tone and subject matter. The course teaches us to "write what you know" by combining individual life experiences with observation and imagination.  Perhaps my characters are individualized and isolated because that is all I know?  I am certain I would struggle to write a happy story around characters who form an established community.

I was reflecting on this while browsing the Amazon Store for short story collections.  Two reviews caught my attention:

(The Granta Book of the Irish Short Story)
This book was given to me and I persevered all the way to the end, hoping to find a glimmer of hope. There were almost none. Beautifully, poetically written but mainly dark, heavy, dreary stories. Might be a good read for Lent? [link]
(New Irish Short Stories)
Roddy Doyle injects the one note of humour in a bleak book, but even that tale finishes in the slough of despond. Why not cut it short and leave us enjoying it?
The rest is a catalogue of child rape, animal abuse, business failure, unemployment, drunkenness, loneliness, the wreckage of lives and houses, an author without inspiration - always the refuge of a writer with nothing left - a man who takes up the offer of quick sex with a mentally ill woman, then flees back to his wife in case she stalks him, a man who got his neighbour killed by terrorists. This reader struggled from one tale to the next, hoping that the next would be better. Or at least would read better.
Have the arts nothing to offer us any more? [link]
Dark, heavy, dreary stories. Am I then in good company? Normally I have little patience for concepts like 'national consciousness', but have we lost the ability to write and enjoy fun stories with happy endings? Anti-heroes are more popular than heroes, unhappy endings more popular than happy endings and criminals with a conscience more popular than good but flawed cops.

But Ireland's culture always contained a dark, dreary streak. Our folk music alternates between mourning for an imaginary Ireland to jingoistic glamorization of the IRA. Our poetry is either bemoaning the nation or bemoaning our economic conditions (see: Stony Grey Soil). The most successful TV show we've produced in years is Love/Hate, a show about criminal drug dealers and the IRA. So rather than been individualised,  perhaps I am truely a product of our collective culture.

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