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The Love Object: Selected Stories


The Love Object: Selected Stories

In THE LOVE OBJECT, a collection of 31 stories from 1968 to 2011, Edna O’Brien has chosen pieces with a rich Irish spirit of confounding, enduring charm. No two tales are similar; it is a mistake to believe you can predict any outcome.

Time is fluid. Narrators rely on memory to explain rash behavior, confirm a past love affair, or challenge the universe. The present is informed by the past, even though there is seldom a linear time frame. “I walk in memory, morning noon and night,” thinks the woman who has come back to her hometown from the city to bury her aunt in “The Doll.” After a perfunctory visit to the son of her late teacher, she leaves his home. And while remembering a painful experience from her childhood, she begins to walk. And she walks. She believes in the wondrous nature of stars and that one day she would rise to reach them and be absorbed in their glory, passing from a selfish world of cruelty and stupidity. Only a few pages long, “The Doll” moves forward and backward in the narrator’s life, allowing us glimpses of who she is and how she was affected by a long-ago selfish action.

"Edna O’Brien has chosen pieces with a rich Irish spirit of confounding, enduring charm. No two tales are similar; it is a mistake to believe you can predict any outcome."

Not much escapes the narrator, whether she is the object of love, a dispassionate observer, or a critical bystander. Narrators may be named or anonymous, but the stories turn on their awareness and interpretation of events. In “A Scandalous Woman,” the narrator questions how the shame of scandal ever came into being, and wonders how the land in which she and the scandalous woman live is a murderous land, a strange sacrificial place. The narrator is the friend of the most beautiful girl in the village; she describes Eily as her connection to the times. Eily was stunning: her eyes were as big and soft and transparent as ripe gooseberries. Eily was headstrong: she would work hard to get to the main road in the evenings to watch the passersby.

Sometimes, the narrator of “A Scandalous Woman” says that “one finds herself in the swim of things; one is wanted, one is privy, then it happens, the destiny, and it is over and one sits back and knows it is someone else’s turn.” She helps Eily deceive the adults after a young Protestant bank clerk becomes interested in the Catholic girl, and she is the guard standing by as the two become lovers. After the young man is forced to marry the pregnant Eily in ugly circumstances, they move to another small town and the narrator hears of her deterioration and madness through the occasional letters that Eily writes home. Unfairness and shame mark each page, and, even though the narrator’s own life hinged on the events of these young days, she does not understand why women are sacrificed.

In another story, “Lantern Slides,” set on the outskirts of Dublin, Miss Lawless and Mr. Conroy attend a birthday party for Betty, whose errant husband has not come home for the surprise gala. The probability of his arrival and the likelihood of his being with Clara, his Danish paramour, are contrapuntal in the music of conversation and food. Each guest at the table becomes a rival, the brunt of speculation or an unexpected confidant, as Miss Lawless discovers the layers of intrigue and passion within the small group. She has the interesting fortune to attract the attention of the newly widowed Abelard, and the last moments of the story see her wondering who will see her home that evening. The details of the company’s posh styles and affluent backgrounds display to the reader a variation in O’Brien’s writing, although the quiet voice of speculation and understanding remains the same.

Another of O’Brien’s gifts is the affirmation of hope. Hope is present in one form or another in all of the stories; it may disappear, but it will surface again --- in another time, with another woman’s understanding of its importance.

The only way to read an Edna O’Brien story is from the beginning. Yes, that should be standard advice, but it borders on imperative with O’Brien. Do not think you can catch up with the narrative somewhere in the middle; you will regret not knowing the complete background. So savor each sentence as each character appears and delight in the pictures of the life she draws for us. And do not skip to the end; you will need each piece of the story to identify and enjoy fully the beauty of longing and understanding that O’Brien brings to life.

Reviewed by Jane Krebs on June 26, 2015

The Love Object: Selected Stories
by Edna O'Brien

  • Publication Date: February 7, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction, Short Stories
  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Back Bay Books
  • ISBN-10: 0316378283
  • ISBN-13: 9780316378284