Book review: Roddy Doyle stories expounded on our pandemic-altered lives | Arts

By DREW GALLAGHER FOR THE FREE LANCE–STAR

I have loved Roddy Doyle ever since I saw the movie “The Commitments” at a movie theater in Union Station over 30 years ago. At the time, I was not familiar with the book that the movie was based upon but I soon began to read and relish everything that Doyle wrote from that point forward including “A Star Called Henry” and “Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha,” which won the Booker Prize. He is one of our greatest comedic writers and has an ear for Irish dialogue that may even surpass that of James Joyce.

So when I saw the release of this collection of stories, I could not wait to read it and escape from the daily drudgery in Doyle’s capable hands. Alas, Doyle, like the rest of us, has the pandemic on his mind and all 10 of these stories are pandemic-tinged which, to my mind, was not so much an escape but a reason to cry “Uncle” and crawl back under the covers or under the influence of another pint of Guinness.

That is not to say that these stories are without redemption or humor, but my guess is that they read better at a distance from the pandemic, if that day ever arrives. I do not claim to know anyone’s reading habits beyond my own, but when I move from the newspaper and the heroic efforts of a Cathy Dyson story collection describing the complexities of these times and reminding us of the death and sadness COVID has wrought, I want to get away from the suffocating bad news. Again, this is not Doyle’s fault.

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We will need chroniclers of these times, and none will be finer than Doyle. He captures the mundane and the tasks with which we have passed our time in isolation. There is the man in “Masks” who has taken up walking during the pandemic. He walks alone and resents the people he encounters who seem to be unaffected by the pandemic. And then there are the masks, dropped along the way like nothing more than a tissue. It has become commonplace to find a mask in a puddle in a parking lot. This is now normal to us and Doyle shows us how quickly we’ve come to accept these changes, which are greater than discarded face coverings.

In “The Charger,” the best and longest in this collection, a husband confronts aging and his marriage in the new COVID-imposed reality. Their daughters have moved back home because of the pandemic and it makes the world better and a reflection of an earlier life, but also underscores that we are changed forever.

One day, I hope to return to these stories and have Doyle rekindle memories of what it was like to live in the present day. One day, I hope to laugh again while reading Roddy Doyle.

Drew Gallagher is a freelance writer and video book reviewer in Spotsylvania.

Drew Gallagher is a freelance writer and video book reviewer in Spotsylvania.

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