I’ve just read another handful of Faber Stories and am ready to share my thoughts on them with you! I’ve now read 14 of the 20 stories in this 2019 collection, 4 of which I’ll be talking about below. If you’re interested in checking out more of these reviews, here are the links to Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 of my mini-review series.
An Elegy for Easterly by Petina Gappah. 3 stars.
Most of the Faber Stories are set it America, the UK, or Ireland (which corresponds perfectly with the fact that these countries are home to most of the authors). I picked up this one because it is set in Zimbabwe.
The synopsis tells us that the Queen is coming to Harare, and so everything unsightly must be swept under the rug. This includes an overabundance of citizens, who are relocated to a temporary town called Easterly Farm, which is quickly overrun by poverty. The story follows in particular one woman in Easterly who has “lost her wits and gained a pregnancy.”
I found this an engaging and worthwhile story from start to finish, but was not surprised to discover that it is only a small piece from a larger collection: a set of short stories by Gappah published under the same title in 2009. This single story sticks closely to the pregnant woman- including those who help her and those her hurt her, and those who only want to gape and jeer. Though I did find her story interesting and complete in itself, it is only a snapshot of a larger picture that I found more intriguing than the vague background provided as setting info here. I think I might’ve benefitted more from reading the entire collection by Gappah rather than this one story alone, as it left me feeling as though something were missing.
“All the women who walk alone at night are prostitutes, the government said- lock them up, the Queen is coming.”
The Country Funeral by John McGahern. 3 stars.
This story, originally published in 1992, features three Irish brothers who travel back to their mother’s childhood home for their uncle’s funeral. I tend to like morbid tales that brush against death, and indeed the brothers’ reactions to the loss of their uncle are complex and compelling. The best aspect, in my opinion, is that the change in perspective that each brother undergoes throughout the course of this story also runs parallel to shifting power dynamics between the siblings.
The downside (depending on the sort of reader that you are) is that this story is largely a character study and thus has very little plot. While I did find each of the brothers interesting and enjoyed seeing their late uncle through the snippets of dialogue they share amongst themselves and the other mourners, I must admit that there were moments of boredom for me. I do tend to like character studies and don’t often need much plot, but following them through the planning and hosting of this funeral just wasn’t quite enough of a hook for me.
The Forester’s Daughter by Claire Keegan. 4 stars.
Also set in Ireland, The Forester’s Daughter gives us another look at the workings of one family. Here also we have scant plot- a man gives his daughter a dog that he did not buy, whose owner wants him back.
Though in some ways similar to the previous story, I found this one immediately gripping and would’ve enjoyed it taking up dozens more pages than it did. The prose is straightforward, but Keegan uses it well; each character is unique, their personalities and motivations simultaneously tying them together and pitting them against one another, the ending inevitable but nevertheless fascinating. It could have gone no other way, but Keegan lays out each step of this journey masterfully to create an adventure worth taking.
My only disappointment is that in a narrative brimming with distinct and well-explored characters, the titular daughter felt completely unknown to me. Though her feelings are less significant to the story than her parents’ reactions to her feelings, it still felt odd to me that such a central character would be left so open to the imagination. She’s described as very smart and rather quirky, but I never had any idea what made her tick, beyond the typical childlike desire for approval and affection. She could have been drawn to much greater affect, though I still enjoyed this story immensely.
“Before a year had passed the futility of married life had struck her sore: the futility of making a bed, of drawing and pulling curtains. She felt lonelier now than she’d ever felt when she was single.”
Mr Salary by Sally Rooney. 4 stars.
A reread; I talked about my first impression of this one briefly in my January wrap-up, after reading it online because I was too impatient to order a copy. I loved the story enough to want my own copy and to start over with it again not long after its arrival.
In this story, a woman returns to Ireland to visit her dying father in the hospital. In the midst of a morbid fascination with mortality, she also reconsiders her relationship with the man (a sort of family friend) who’s housing her. Very little actually happens as the characters shuffle from one scene to the next, and none of them seem to understand (if they’re even aware of) their own emotions. The joy- as with any Rooney piece- comes in piecing together the unsaid from the characters’ movements and dialogue. Rooney’s stories are delightful puzzles for the reader to assemble, all the more interesting for the fact that the outcome will not look the same for every reader. In fact, I had an entirely different impression of the ending this time around than I did in my previous reading only a few months ago. It’s impressive how much Rooney can evoke in the reader’s heart and mind in just a few short pages- how interactive an experience her writing is.
Overall thoughts: I didn’t realize quite how Irish this batch was turning out to be when I made my selections, but I certainly don’t mind. All said, this was a pretty solid group; nothing really disappointed me, I still loved Mr Salary, and The Forester’s Daughter was a pleasant surprise that I highly recommend. I might give the full collection of An Elegy for Easterly a try at some point, and I’d be very interested in reading more from Keegan. I wasn’t sure whether I would keep going with the collection after this batch, but I haven’t read anything yet that’s left me with the impression that I won’t enjoy the rest of the Faber Stories, so I suppose there will be another round of mini-reviews in a few weeks!
Have you read any of the stories from this collection? Which has been your favorite?
The Literary Elephant