>The New Yorker: "Ash" by Roddy Doyle


Let me first say that I’m annoyed with The New Yorker. Or the Post Office. For the fourth week in a row my copy of the magazine has arrived late. Significantly late. I know I could read the stories online, but I shouldn’t have to. It’s beginning to tick me off.
And if only they were worth the wait!
This story by Roddy Doyle is notable mostly for the banter between brothers Kevin and Mick about the crumbling state of Kevin’s marriage (and the defunct state of Mick’s). Kevin’s wife, Ciara, has announced that she’s leaving. Except she doesn’t. She stays and they have sex. She is late coming home one night and so he thinks it might be for real this time, but she comes home late and they have sex. And then she really does disappear, and he starts thinking that it might be permanent.
He’s dealing with their children and also getting bad advice from the well-meaning Mick, whose bad judgment doomed his own marriage.
Suddenly Ciara returns, along with the news of the Icelandic volcano that is spewing ash and shutting down airports all over Europe. And so the reader suspects—this reader, anyway—that the reason Ciara is back is that she couldn’t leave. Maybe she’d wanted to, but she couldn’t. “The airports were crowded and shut. There was no escape.”
But Kevin understands that the situation isn’t permanent. Eventually, the escape routes will open again.
The subject is a tired one, for sure, but it’s amazing that such a timely story has appeared in The New Yorker. And that’s about the best I have to say for it.
 May 24, 2010: “Ash” by Roddy Doyle

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  1. >I thought you wouldn't bother to write about New Yorker's stories anymore. I'm glad you still do.

    As for the story, I think the last 8 lines is somehow significant: when Kevin looks at Ciara or when he says "things will get back to 'normal' when the ash drifts away. Or fall" and, above all, Ciara's negative answer to the child's question whether ash fall hurts. They all sound like the ash is serving as a symbol. What do you think?

    By the way, what is this "I shouldn't have to." that you used in your post and I sometimes hear people say? Can two modal verbs be used in succession? (or perhaps it is the not-heard-of "should have + infinitive" construction)

  2. >"shouldn't have to" = "should not be required to" — this is distinct from its auxiliary function

    I definitely think the last lines of the story are key, and I think they make it clear that the ash has only temporarily stopped things. Once it falls–and falling won't hurt–things will get back to normal, meaning that Ciara will leave.

    I intend to keep writing about the stories. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  3. >I too am glad you're continuing to "review" New Yorker short stories. I think they/it/the magazine ought to guarantee you a timely delivery (though I'm usually a week behind anyway). In particular, I appreciate your pointing out that the fraternal banter is the best part of the story. After you wrote that, I realized it was true … entertaining in itself, the banter, and deftly revealing the characters and their relationship.

  4. >hmm… I had a different reaction to the ending – Ciara taking the lead on the conversation and saying that the ash won't hurt – I took it to mean that she would probably stay – and that the dust from the momentary eruption in the relation would settle. But I can see your reaction too (which makes Ciara, I think, particularly unpleasant for saying that to the kids.)

    And agree about the rest. I thought the voice and style was lively and engaging but… aside from the story being so of-the-moment, there wasn't much to it, and it felt too simple at the end – and the ash/eruption as a metaphor for the relationship – also too easy.

  5. >I was surprised by the timeliness of the story, too, but above anything I was stunned to see this story get to the TNY. It was but a wisp of a tale, which clawed its way in by indulging in sentimental subjects. All that I liked was the ending, which could be a story in itself, starting with the line "–Amazing." You would just need to add a dash of backstory. Those paragraphs express the most poignant part of the narrative. I construed Ciara's last line as a way to try to tell the girls that her departure wouldn't hurt them. Of course it would, but Ciara is trying to convince herself that it won't, in order to spare herself the guilt.

    Perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of the story for me was a matter of punctuation: I enjoyed seeing those Joycean em dashes used for dialogue.

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