CategoryDoyle Roddy

Stories: Conclusion

Having reached the end of Stories (click here for the index of my posts), it’s time for a few remarks in closing. I’d characterise this as a solid anthology — a broad range of material, and nothing particularly bad (Gene Wolfe’s is probably the weakest story, and even that has a certain amount of interest). However, more stories fall into the ‘quite good’ bracket ( as opposed to the ‘good’ bracket) than I’d have liked, and this is what makes the anthology solid rather than spectacular for me.

What, then, are the best stories in Stories? Roddy Doyle and Jodi Picoult do interesting things with fantasy, and demonstrate how fruitful the results can be when ‘mainstream’ writers try their hand at the fantastic. Michael Swanwick, Jeffrey Ford, and Joe Hill contribute perhaps the best-told tales; and Kat Howard’s piece is a strong debut.

Finally, how far does the anthology meet its stated aim: to collect stories that encourage readers to ask ‘and then what happened’? Quite well, I think — for all the criticisms I might make of some 0f these stories, they’re rarely dull. I’m wary of saying that any anthology has ‘something for everyone’ — but I think Stories comes close.

Roddy Doyle, ‘Blood’ (2010)

Straight away, here’s an author I would not instinctively associate with fantasy (though I’ve never previously read a word of Doyle, so that’s based purely on an assumption of mine) — and if the anthology continues to be as good as this, I will be very pleased.

Doyle’s protagonist is a forty-one-year-old man, married with two children, who has hobbies like going down the pub and playing football… There is nothing exceptional about him; he is normal, or so he wishes to tell himself. Yes, he’s an average bloke — with an urge to drink blood.

This leads to a number of farcical situations, as our man tries to hide his desire for blood from those around him; but what makes ‘Blood’ a particularly good story is the way Doyle uses this implied vampirism as a metaphor for general insecurities about one’s place in life and the world. The protagonist fixates on his wife’s offhand comment, ‘You’re such a messer,’ and starts to wonder what must be wrong with him that he’s feeling this way. Yet, surely, nothing’s wrong, because he’s normal, isn’t he?

Doyle writes in an easy, flowing style that suits his tale well — light-hearted to an extent, but with a relentless forward march that mirrors how the protagonist is overtaken by life. I’ll be reading more of Roddy Doyle’s work in the future, no doubt.

Rating: ****

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