He was thirty one and he didn’t feel like was making a good job of his life…
Derek, the thirty-one year old protagonist of James Kelman’s (relatively) long short story is back home in Glasgow to assist in matters following the death of his mother. Effectively orphaned (his father died when Derek was a child) Derek suddenly feels adrift in his own life: unwilling to fully commit in his relationship, still smarting over an incident at art school which saw him leave the course prematurely, still grieving and reeling over his “first adult experience of death”:
He kept getting tearful. But that was alright, that was alright. It was alright. It was just
What follows is a very Kelmanesque long dark night of the soul: Derek meets up with his old friend from his student days and they go to the pub, Derek hoping that the drinking session will help him “get the other thing out of his system. What other thing? His fucking life.” So, they get drunk. They reminisce. They eye up girls at the bar. They argue about Derek’s apparent “Englishness” after being away from Glasgow for so long; discuss old friends and acquaintances; Derek look enviously at his friend’s married status and compares it to his own uncommitted relationship:
He had been too long on his own. Maybe if he had settled down and was rearing a family.
As tends to be the case in such things, nothing gets resolved. Kelman’s instincts regarding where to begin and end his stories – or rather, where to join and leave his untidy narratives – is as impeccable as ever. And the reader is left with a sense of Derek’s life going on, like all our lives, in their own haphazard fashion, far beyond the final full stop.
Published in The Burn, Martin Secker & Warburg Ltd 1991