Thursday, April 24, 2008

The New Yorker: "Bullfighting" by Roddy Doyle

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

8 comments:

Paul Epstein said...

Not a comment on this story but simply a New-Yorker related question. Cliff, among all the stories in the New Yorker that are now readable online [this includes the classics such as those by J.D. Salinger], which is your favourite?

There seems to be quite a bit of negative sentiment about many recent New Yorker stories. As for me, I'm more or less a novice in this area so I'm more easily impressed.

Paul Epstein

Clifford Garstang said...

Interesting but nearly impossible question. I like Carver. Does that help? I think the feeling that many emerging writers have is that TNY just isn't publishing the best stories. They publish stories by the biggest names in the business today and then a few others. It's the stories by the unknowns that tend to impress me. Maybe that says something about expectations. Or maybe my whole approach to TNY is more about my expectations than about the stories themselves.

Anonymous said...

I disagree with you because I felt it was an excellent, perfect story...I liked it better than any in a long time.

Clifford Garstang said...

Anonymous:
I wonder if you could say more about what you liked? As I think more about the story it is growing on me. The dialogue is terrific. The relationship among these men is unusual (a good thing) even if the ennui is not. And the crucial moment of the encounter with the bull is a kid of pivot point I wish all stories had--in fact the absence of such a moment is something that often troubles me about New Yorker stories. So I think I like this one more than I did initially.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for asking! Well, I am a woman so it was good for me to get some kind of inkling about what men like that are like...and why they never seem to talk about anything (unless drunk, of course)..also, he seemed like a really good guy and I haven't heard men talk about their feelings about their kids, though I know they must have these tender feelings all bottled up like that. The bull thing was a little wierd and I didn't really get that part, maybe it was a male thing!
Lucy

John Michael Santora said...

I thought it was an above average story. One that can stand up against the haters and nay-sayers that take opportunities to bash The New Yorker, even though sometimes they are warranted. Some of the pop culture references were corny, but the first I-Pod mention gave me a chuckle, he should have let it die. The bullring was a good turning point, but I still felt a little unsatisfied when I finished. It was still good enough to leave an impression on me. You know of anything else Doyle has done?

Clifford Garstang said...

He's written several books, but I think he's best known for Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha which won the Booker Prize awhile back.

john michael santora said...

Of course the Booker Prize. After I put up the post I looked him up on Wikipedia and saw that. You learn something new everyday.