It’s a pleasant story. Good, even. Not great, though. Probably not memorable. Donal and his Dublin Pals Seán, Gerry and Ken get together every Thursday night for several pints at their pub. They all have wives and kids and they’re all settled, although everyone seems to have or have had a rocky marriage. The story is Donal’s, though, and so mostly we learn about his love—a love that is at once intense and exhausted—for his sons. He feels that his life is about to be over because his sons are almost grown and on their own (although his Peter seems fairly young). And oddly, his wife Elaine rarely enters his thoughts. One thing that’s interesting about the story is that everyone seems gainfully employed, well-off in fact, and able to afford trips abroad. Donal and his pals go on an adventure without the families, although they all seem to stay in touch by phone. Gerry’s brother has a place in Spain, so they go there. They drink, they talk. Some of them conduct business by phone and Blackberry. They swim, they drink. There is a bullring in the village but they don’t visit there until the last night of their stay when Donal gets really, really drunk. And then, without realizing what he’s doing, he comes face to face with the bull. For a brief moment he feels alive. And then he pukes in the pool. Hah!
Except that this story is set in Dublin and Spain, American readers will recognize Donal. He’s the standard-issue bored husband who needs to confront his life’s stasis. New York men of this type usually don’t get to stare down a bull, so maybe this story stands apart. Still, it feels a bit too familiar.
April 28, 2008: “Bullfighting” by Roddy Doyle