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Book Review by Roslyn Fuller Alms on the Highway By Various Authors (TCD Oscar Wilde Centre)

Last update - Thursday, December 1, 2011, 03:23 By Metro Éireann

This collection of short stories and poems from the Oscar Wilde Centre at Trinity College Dublin starts out strong, winding ethereally down dark but cosy streets, and more or less keeps up the quality.

This is by and large writers’ writing, focused on style, atmosphere, experimental turns of phrase, while at the same time pulling back from full-on arty abstraction. The emphasis is far more on the short story, with only a few poems interspersed.
The subject matter of is generally dark, from ‘Suicide Drinking’ (self-explanatory, really) to ‘Blemish’ (told from the view of the uneducated teenage son of an impoverished ex-Marine redneck), and ‘History Holds a Grudge’ (an ethnic Ukrainian boy struggles with homosexuality and self-harm). Sorrow and death also figure largely, as in ‘Moments and Ash’ (detailing a road accident gorily killing cattle) and Eileen Casey’s ‘Fuschia’ (a young couple attempts to come to terms with loss).
I personally enjoyed the somewhat offbeat ‘Anyone, Anytime’ in which the off-balance protagonist attempts to seduce a travelling window salesman who calls at her door. Macabre, yes, but definitely kind of amusing. Fintan O’Higgins’ ‘A Bunch of Flowers’, although certainly sad (focusing on the break-up of a relationship) features such a spot-on portrayal of local pub denizens as to be a most gratifying read. My personal favourite of the bunch is Chris Allen’s ‘Feathered Cargo’, which kicks off the collection.
Also deserving of special mention is Marianne O’Rourke’s ‘Big Pink’, a very contemplative contribution. While the images it conjured up occasionally turned my stomach, I found the themes of identity, boundaries and self-sufficiency very intriguing. Barbara Tarrant’s ‘Doghouse’, revolving around an unexpected visit from a sleazy yet charismatic ex-brother-in-law, is also psychologically penetrating.
While all this may sound eclectic, the style of writing is actually fairly cohesive and the stories tend to blend into one another. Relationships rather than action are on centre-stage here, and there is a sense of many characters being more observer than participant.
 Events have occurred prior to the beginning of the narrative and the characters now react or reflect upon them. It’s therefore no surprise that several of the contributions deal exclusively with relating past events from the first person.
As one would expect from a school of English, the writing is polished and well formed, while the contemplative subject matter delivers more than a few thoughts to ruminate over.

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