by Conor Patrick
One of the many good reasons for reading short stories is that they make useful palate-cleansers between novels. Sometimes, though, a story is so powerful that it drowns out everything else and the next novel is forgotten. I picked up GOODBYE CROCODILE to read a story as a filler and couldn't put it down until I'd finished the entire collection.
The tone of these twelve stories is undeniably melancholic: Patrick writes with acute insight about bereavement, grief and, above all, loss. THE LATE TRAIN TO SANTA FE tells of the end of a marriage where "at last their shores were foreign" and the heartbreaking separation of a father and son, the distance measured out by the siren call of the train across the hills, and it is one of very few short stories I've read which has made me cry.
Patrick writes with striking originality about a dying wife; a dead brother; an old man's interest in his young neighbours: in each case a miniature which speaks of a much larger world. Many of the stories are about children reaching, or being pulled towards, adulthood, and three stories are about loss of innocence, including the chilling BE STILL THE RIVER, in which two orphaned sisters learn to construct a carapace around themselves in order to survive.
All the stories are subtle, beautiful, enigmatic and haunting. They are fragments which tread a very fine and deliberate line between literary construct and an almost visceral truth. This balance is what gives the collection its power because, as the narrator in THE GULL knowingly points out, life isn't fiction but "a chain of trivialities punctuated by blistering grief and secret unremarkable narratives."
This is a keeper and one that you'll want to read again and again.
Published as an e-book by The London Magazine, 125pp.