When all is said and done: technical skill noted, originality box ticked, believable characters conveyed etc. etc. ... our choice of favourites comes down to very personal components. Our own selection: what moves, excites, impresses will vary as much as we all do as individuals. It stands to reason that not everyone will enjoy the same stories and this difference enhances the rich diversity of writers and their readers. My own picks have been chosen for a variety of reasons but above all because for me the world shifted a little when I read them. If they were stars I know I would be looking out for them every night.
So every now and then, in between other items on this blog, I will drop in one of my recommendations. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do and that you find something new to delight you...and if you know them already I hope you’ll be drawn to read them again.
DARK HORSES by Claire Keegan
This story is taken from her collection ‘Walk the Blue Fields’ publ. Faber & Faber (2007).
I had not heard of Claire Keegan until I came across this wonderful anthology. It is always such a pleasure to discover a new writer whose work both stimulates and satisfies on so many levels. It is the depth of her humanity, the spareness of her writing that sets her apart for me. Deceptively simple, profoundly eloquent stories that leave you with a lurch in your heart.
In many of them the air between people is thick with the consequence of their histories and often carries the weight of damage they’ve inflicted on each other. There are tensions waiting to snap, passions roused and spent, past events worming their way to the surface, slowly by infinite degree.
In this story Brady, every night, dreams of the woman he has lost:
‘She’s out in the yard with the big hunter, laughing, praising her dark horse.’
This sentence, suffused with sexual meaning, introduces the relationship she and Brady once had. Her horse, this dark creature, represents her own desire, passion and perhaps even Brady himself. So the concept of the dark horse is introduced right at the start and lurking quietly at the back of our minds is its alternative meaning and the prospect of something unexpected looming on the horizon.
A man who has been too fond of the drink is haunted by his own loneliness, the barren nature of his solitary life and how less of a man he feels with the loss of his woman. How this contrasts with his neighbour McQuaid:
‘... a man walking through fields greener than his own.’
Fields that were once Brady’s. But it isn’t only the literal fields that are so verdant for McQuaid, he has a wife, status, a little money all things that Brady lacks, everything he’s lost. And so Brady drinks with the other lost souls in the bar. It is the farrier, Leyden, who has drawn him here, a man who puts small jobs his way when he needs his skill handling difficult horses. He is another man who has a home, rather than just somewhere to live ... and a wife.
For all his passion and empathy, it is Brady’s betrayal of these qualities, his reckless disregard of them when blinded by drink, that ruins his life.
This story, as with others in the collection, reveals more with each reading and rewards. It is subtle, allowing readers space to work things out for themselves – a quality I particularly appreciate – here there is emotional depth. The simple truth is profound, as bare and as rich as the land and this landscape of rural Ireland, from which the characters are drawn, can be unforgiving. Life is harsh, money scarce, rewards few yet there are riches to be found in the telling of its tales.
A must for anyone who loves reading and writing short stories.