With Madeleine D’Arcy’s debut short collection Waiting for the Bullet we discover an author with the power to make her stories immediately arresting, hold you with their easy, engaging style and then shake you out of your complacency. Every day life told lightly and with humour and competent use of colloquial colour turns suddenly to shock you with a dark underside. This is true of the opening story Clocking Out where the pleasingly drawn work romance pivots and we are left reeling with a new angle on both the story and it’s title.
This collection seems to wrap its arms tenderly around its characters, drawn from many walks of life and situation. Human dilemmas result in fallible human fixes, optimism is always somewhat tenuous and in several stories a London-Irish sense of loneliness is invoked. Think positive thinks Esmé from Esmé’s weekend, a story written as an homage to the inspiration Madeleine D’Arcy found in JD Salinger’s story For Esmé – with Love and Squalor. “It’s hard to think positive,” the story continues. Think positive…Somebody has to, Esmé reiterates later.
We really feel for the people D’Arcy conjures, sympathising not just with their stories but in how the characters spin tales to make reality more palatable. In this collection, insightful observation is matched by incisive phrasing – D’Arcy can both nail and open up a story in a single turn of phrase as in the final sentence of The Fox and the Placenta.
Madeleine D’Arcy won the 2010 Hennessy Literary Award for New Irish Writing and her prizewinning story Is this like Scotland? is included. In this and the other stories in the collection D’Arcy demonstrates a keen ability to evoke the heart of the matter through lithe dialogue and description. In her Hennessy story “The gate will whistle a tune that no-one else can sing.” Elsewhere in the volume, we can clearly see the “vein sausages in net stockings” in the Italian delicatessen of a London street or the “carnival smells of chips and candy floss, diesel and patchouli oil, chair-o-planes, roundabouts, bumper cars and the Big Wheel” of a “summer back home.”
Secrets and the unsaid (as in An Underrated Emotion) grind at lives like whetstones, rendering a quiet destruction of relationships and the people in them. But – as in the title story where the violent emotion of an unconfirmed affair becomes wrapped up in a game of roulette – the reader knows that a bullet is coming. In Waiting for the Bullet the ammunition is the few sentences in a story that hit the reader and change everything – literary bullets that reveal this collection’s and its author’s true explosive power.
Waiting for the Bullet is available from Doire Press
It’s also available on Amazon