I Want to Know That I Will Be Okay: Damaged dolls, haunted houses

Book review: Deirdre Sullivan’s short stories are creepy and cleverly paced

Deirdre Sullivan’s short stories embrace the gothic in its traditional 18th century form.

Deirdre Sullivan’s short stories embrace the gothic in its traditional 18th century form.

The protagonists and narrators of Deirdre Sullivan’s short stories are not okay. Most of them have little idea of how “okay” might be, except that it is a state of mind and body pertaining to other people, to the friends and relatives who find being in the world less difficult. “Her friends had all got married in the same year”, we learn of Laoise on the first page. After that, “the friends filled up their happily married wombs with little babies”. In their awkwardness and anxiety, the main characters live in the shadows of what they perceive as the ordinary, functional lives of everyone else, scrabbling to discipline their thoughts, their speech and particularly their bodies to conform to half-intuited rules. Laoise is horrified by menstruation: “She had an iPad and an Orla Kiely bag… She shouldn’t have to drip and hurt and stain.”

In Hen: “You shave your legs every second day; you hate to see the dark bumps coming… Your body’s worse than the house, you think, sometimes, for maintenance.” The heroine of Skein “get[s] to work with a four-blade razor” when “the growth of it reminded me of when the lawn got redone”. Eve struggles with make-up, with the conviction that other women are better at it while “the more she tries, the more she seems to fail”. The teenaged narrator of the title story is also trying not to try too hard: “My hair had been straightened and re-curled, and then messed a little so it didn’t look too obviously nice.” These are women from childhood to middle age caught in the toils of femininity, entirely alienated from any idea of their own desire or pleasure by the endless work of grooming.

The Irish Times
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