‘Dead Dog’ by Philip Ó Ceallaigh

‘Dead Dog’ is one of the most uncomfortable stories here because of its intense physicality but also because the margins of hope are so narrow. The protagonist is a failing Irish writer living in Bucharest with no money, in a run-down apartment block, trying to look after his young daughter after her mother has left them. He has written a “dead-end book” which has been refused by his publisher and his editor has abandoned him. But he is a man who can’t help taking on responsibilities he can barely meet, like arranging to remove the corpse of an old neighbour’s dog from the basement because people are complaining about the smell. Literally scratching around, collecting bits of scrap metal to raise money to pay the disposal company, every move he makes is draining and painful in the sweltering Romanian summer. The reader feels it too – the heat, the smells, the sheer effort of doing anything at times, are relentless. But there is some hope in the end, in the writer’s attempts to do the right things in the hardest circumstances, and particularly in his relationship with his daughter:

“When the child was born and he first held her, he felt he was good enough to protect her and do only what was right. That was love, and nothing else held the foolish precarious world together.”

Collected in Trouble, Stinging Fly Press, 2021

‘Island’ by Philip Ó Ceallaigh

A man, the narrator of this brutal and astonishing story, has moved to an island to live a remote life, tending to the grounds, and specifically the grapes on a crumbling hillside house. As he works in solitude, his peaceful wine-sipping is interrupted by a pair of mating monkey (type things). The ‘monkeys’ have a lot of sex and the man watches them. From here, it becomes more surreal. What opens as a typical, fairly sparse form of contemplative masculinity diffuses into a gentle hallucinatory departure from normal life into an exotic death. The whole of Trouble (the collection) is rife with this effortless switch from what a lot of people call ‘muscular writing’ into something shatteringly tender. I’m always so glad when these turns come along, and I always find myself staring at the page for a long time after this story.  

First published in Trouble, Stinging Fly, 2021

‘Graceland’ by Philip Ó Ceallaigh

Another Stinging Fly! I love this story. It depicts a father’s day out with his daughter so beautifully that it made me reminisce about father-daughter museum days I’m not sure I ever had. It’s also a very touching look at how children perceive the world, the things they notice that adults have become blind to. It’s an honest depiction of a fractured marriage and the protagonist’s frustration at being unable to see his child. This image, in which the father is acknowledging and making peace with his rage, particularly struck me: He hushed the violence. He whispered to it and caressed it like you would a cat to gain its trust then he gripped the loose skin of the nape and removed it squirming from the room.”

First published and available to read in The Stinging Fly, May 2021. Collected in Trouble, The Stinging Fly 2021