Irish Examiner Saturday - Irish Examiner - Weekend
Seeing beauty, struggle, and redemption in the everyday
AWIFE oppressed by an omnipresent and oafish husband; a boy consumed with the football field; a foreigner bemused by the Irish gift of the gab, and a father struggling to meet his sales quarter targets while picking out a Christmas tree with his son.
These are just a few of the tales strewn across Shine/Variance, the debut short-story collection from Stephen Walsh.
The Dublin writer has only been writing “seriously” since 2018 but the care he demonstrates in his craft here showcases a talent honed from far back beyond that date. Shine/Variance tries to tackle the everyday
through the prism of a particular internal struggle. Walsh is particularly adept at immediately drawing the reader to the story’s protagonist and within a few paragraphs, expertly setting the scene.
Each of the stories packs a particular emotional punch but this is punctuated by humour. His settings are not particularly glamorous — a sunshine holiday; a cafe; an Astroturf pitch, and often the story’s prompt is the mundane — walking a dog, trying to run, or a tuna sandwich. Walsh
wants to shine a light on the internal struggle, and he achieves this in every story.
A particular favourite was the second story in the collection — ‘Wingers’ — in which a footballobsessed boy accompanies his mother to Mayo as her father passes away. The story is delivered in a stream of consciousness as the boy meets an old flame of his mother’s and the absence of his father is brought into sharp focus. His running football commentary of everyday life powers the story and you can’t help but root for this boy. The first story, ‘Dolphins of Seville’, introduces us to Fiona, a bored, frustrated housewife whose husband is obsessed with some nebulous notion of ‘winning’.
Fiona’s blue trainers and what they symbolise dominate the story as she first must navigate the treachery of adding them to his carefully-packed luggage and then must justify her daily runs.
Walsh’s symbols are not subtle. Here, the wife runs from the husband, in another story a man literally struggles to build a toy home, while the image of a husband with drifting eyes, also walking a dog straining at the leash, is self-explanatory, but this is not to quibble with their power. Walsh’s settings and symbols may on the surface be narrow, but the themes remain broad.
‘Please say when you are calling’ was another favourite based around a German woman arriving in Dublin in 1995 to streamline a new voice service that will reduce call-centre calls. It is a wonderfully multi-layered story about a place and time that seems far removed, but the flickering sense of what Dublin and Ireland would grow into is never far away — “A mass of people, an entirety, shouting the old way is gone, we are here, and we are going to win” — the fledging steps of a tiger born and the chaos that would ensue summed up perfectly by a raucous Eurovision crowd.
There is not a weak link in this chain of stories. Shine/Variance is a hugely accomplished debut from a writer who sees beauty, struggle, and redemption in the everyday.