‘This deserves a wide audience’ – Waiting for the Bullet, Madeleine D’Arcy

wftbmdWhat’s to say here? A sharp, terse, funny collection of snappy short stories from an up-and-coming Irish talent: simple as. Waiting for the Bullet is an enormously quick read – you’ll race through the book in an afternoon – but it’s also deceptively brief, in that the concision, and, in most cases, the humour, of each piece masks an emotional depth that’ll resonate with you, and unsettle you, long after you’ve picked up the next book.

The stories are both contemporary and international in setting (D’Arcy tracks between present-day London, NYC and Cork), and, in the main, they’re examining the fallout of ruined relationships, or the moment of ruin itself; her narrators and are men and women who’ve messed up or who’ve been messed over, and the pieces are rapid-fire accounts of disaster approaching or survived. Any teacher reciting the old dictum of short story-writing (start near the end and stop as soon as possible) ought to use D’Arcy as a case-study: she plunges the reader into the depths of her characters’ dilemmas and doesn’t pander to any elongated scene-setting. Whether it’s a woman dealing with her husband’s infidelity or an aging, womanizing author realizing he’s not so sure what he wants anymore, a husband confronting the gulf between himself and his new, acquisitive wife, or a woman who’s taking her cleaning obsession just a tad too far, D’Arcy sketches in just the requisite basics to hook the reader and then slams right into action: her economy of detail is fantastic and the resultant stories have more punch than many a novel.

Highlights for us would include ‘Is This Like Scotland?’, in which Corkman Fintan returns to his homeland with his new, Swedish wife and has to face up to their incompatibility – neatly, and horribly funnily, played out in his interactions with her parents:

‘Jesus, I’m hungry all the time,’ he says to Sven. ‘Maybe I’ve worms.’

Sven looks at him.

‘Forget it,’ says Fintan.

They drink in silence.

The story crescendos towards a visit to his ancestral home – the place to which he longs to returns – and his wife’s blank incomprehension:

‘Why did you bring us here?’ says Annika. ‘It’s just a field.’

Shades of JB Keane there… We were also taken by the unanticipated hopefulness of ‘A Good Funeral’, in which a gay son, struggling with his partner’s recent death, returns home for his father’s funeral to find his family still uncomfortable around him, but makes an unexpected connection with a young bartender. While most of the pieces in this collection don’t have this tentative promise at their ends, we were also captivated by the terseness with which D’Arcy lays out the implosions of relationships gone sour: the pile-up of horror that is Esmé’s discovery of her partner’s repeated infidelities in ‘Esmé’s Weekend’; the narrator’s shock in dealing with his split from his wife ‘Salvage’; Eddie’s self-sabotaging catastrophe of a ‘lads’ night out’ in ‘The Wolf Note’. That last story, in fact, is a great example of how painfully funny D’Arcy’s writing can be: Eddie’s terrible attempt at a one-night-stand, the awful banter between the men, the huffy text-speak between husband and wife. D’Arcy’s dialogue is fantastic throughout – her ear for regional variations of diction is spot-on, and her sense of humour shines in every exchange. The whole collection shuns, also, any hint of sentimentality, despite the unhappiness of its characters and the brutality of many of their situations: the paternity dilemma in ‘The Fox and the Placenta’, the dreadful mother and the depressed (and possibly psychopathic!) daughter in ‘Housewife of the Year’, the botched scattering of the ashes in ‘Across the Duck Pond’, and, most viscerally, the infanticide and horror in ‘Clocking Out’ are all handled with a level of detachment that’s never a cop-out, or a refusal to confront the depths of the plots and themes, but rather that allows the reader to come to his/her own conclusion without supplying a ready emotion to guide them.

Any Cop?: Absolutely. Fans of Anne Enright will probably get on well here, and if you’re new to short stories, they’re as accessible as they are memorable. Pithy, horrible, hilarious: you’ll love it. A great release from a tiny press (Doire Press), this deserves a wide audience.

Valerie O’Riordan


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