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Collected Stories (1981)

de Frank O'Connor

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Frank O'Connor is regarded as one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century, and a master of the short story form. In this definitive compilation of his stories, including "Guests of the Nation," O'Connor explores universal themes of love, loss, and faith through the particulars of the Irish experience, both in Ireland and abroad.… (més)
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A modified version of this review first appeared on my blog: http://www.reluctantm.com/?p=2438

So I love Frank O'Connor. He wrote my favourite short story that I read in my teens (My Oedipus Complex) and my favourite short story I read in my twenties (Guests of the Nation) (fun and embarrassing me-fact: I did not realize it was the same Frank O'Connor who wrote both these stories until I was, maybe, 26). On more than one occasion, I've lamented that they don't teach Frank O'Connor much in school (maybe they do in Ireland, but not here in Canada). Instead, I had five years of our short-story English component being The Secret Life of Walter Mitty by James Thurber and All Summer in a Day by Ray Bradbury (they couldn't even find the same two Canadian short stories for us to read from grades seven through eleven).

So I love Frank O'Connor. I know that the previous paragraph also started that sentence, but I do. He has stories that don't have a plot and they work. He has stories that are heavy with back story that's never revealed and they work. He has stories with the artifice of a narrator telling a story about someone telling a story and they work. He has a story about a lion tamer, in Ireland, in this collection and it works. You can read Frank O'Connor and see that you can strip so much away and still have something amazing. You can also read Frank O'Connor and see a story that, if I were to write it, would collapse under all the strain, the history, the religion, the family, the expectations, but his stories don't. They soar. They are funny, in a desperate, despairing way. They are sad in a way that makes one smile. I think it bears repeating: so I love Frank O'Connor. I mean, how can you not love someone who: "was always a great believer in buttered toast."

This sounds harsh, but I think it's true: If you are a short fiction writer and you knowingly haven't read Frank O'Connor, then there may be something wrong with you.

Still, loving Frank O'Connor is not without its difficulties. He's a product of a time and locale. He uses the word Jew as a pejorative and Oriental as a description. Both those, at least in this collection, aren't frequent. What is frequent is that women are generally secondary, and there are times when the comments on or depictions of women just skirt the line of misogyny. I'd like to think O'Connor is just being accurate regarding the treatment of women in such a staunch Catholic setting, but reading O'Connor, I've never really been able to shake the feeling that he can't imagine how frustrating it would have been for so many of these women, treated like second-class citizens and expected to be baby machines, like his imagination just cannot imagine something like that.

As for this collection, it's a bit baffling if one is looking for background. I have another collection of Frank O'Connor stories (Vintage's Stories by Frank O'Connor) where Frank O'Connor himself tells you why he chose the stories he did. But in this collection, there is no introduction or essay at the end saying why these stories were picked. It's called Collected Works, but not every Frank O'Connor story is there, and the publisher is actually pedaling three other Frank O'Connor collections as well. Is there overlap between these collections? Are there links between them? In the collection I read, characters tend to reappear, certain priests, certain families; are all occurrences of, say Father Ring, in the collection I just read, or does he appear in other collections as well? Other than reading the other collections, I have no idea. I find it odd (I'd like to say disrespectful, this is Frank O'Connor we're talking about here! Does the publisher not know that I love him?) that they couldn't find anyone willing to write an intro to Frank O'Connor, to say why these stories were chosen, and maybe why others were left out. That's pretty much the only negative I have to say about this collection, and, of course, it has nothing to do with Frank O'Connor himself.

Again, I love Frank O'Connor. I read him and I feel closer to some of my family, who were a big Irish Catholic brood. Most immigrated to Canada generations ago, but there are still echoes of their behaviour in these stories. And maybe that's why I love Frank O'Connor when on paper (ha! writing pun!) one wouldn't think so; I've complained about male-view stories enough that perhaps my love of Frank O'Connor seems a bit mystifying. But you can't deny good writing. You can't deny that Frank O'Connor loves all his characters, even the despicable ones like Jeremiah Donovan. Each character is like a universe to him-(or her, rarely)-self. Just like people. Just like life.

Collected Stories by Frank O'Connor went on sale August 12, 2014, but the I think it may be a reissue of a collection from 1981, and the stories within have publication dates spanning from 1931 to 1965.

I received a copy free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. ( )
  reluctantm | Nov 20, 2014 |
This is a fantastic collection of short stories by this prolific Irish author. Read my full review at:
http://thebookbindersdaughter.com/2014/08/17/review-collected-stories-by-frank-o... ( )
  magistrab | Aug 17, 2014 |
Often funny and more often devastating, with surprising insights into people and their motivations. Pieces like "The Bridal Night" and "The Luceys" are unforgettable. I can't say I enjoyed the whole collection as much as I did reading just a few of them years ago. He rides his hobby horses a bit too much (how many variants of the out-of-wedlock-child-sent-away story do you need?), and the outlook is just too consistently bleak to be honestly enjoyed over so many pages. At his best, though, he's wonderful. A smaller selection of his best work might welcome. ( )
  jeffcovey | Dec 15, 2010 |
Reading Frank O'Connor is a little like getting kicked in the stomach every couple of pages.

O'Connor is a master of the short story, and I admire his ability to create incredibly detailed pictures with comparatively few words. His Ireland, though, is an incredibly bleak place, where the biggest sin is planning for the future, and the only thing worse than being drunk is not being drunk.

He's particularly adept at showing the world through the eyes of children, particularly boys, and at showing the way children try to explain their worlds to themselves in the absence of information from their parents, which is both wonderful and heartbreaking. On the other hand, many of his male characters are locked in frankly - and frankly creepy - oedipal relationships with their mothers, which I found incredibly uncomfortable - and possibly uncomfortably familiar. Many of the stories are very funny, but funny in a dark, bleak, desperate kind of way. I can't say I enjoyed the work, exactly, but it was definitely worth reading. ( )
  upstairsgirl | May 29, 2009 |
These stories by one of the giants of Irish literature never lose their currency. Guests of the Nation is particularly poignant. ( )
  JPWyatt | Jan 21, 2007 |
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Frank O'Connor is regarded as one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century, and a master of the short story form. In this definitive compilation of his stories, including "Guests of the Nation," O'Connor explores universal themes of love, loss, and faith through the particulars of the Irish experience, both in Ireland and abroad.

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