‘Irish Revel’ by Edna O’Brien

Irish Revel by Edna O’Brien, 1962

The magic trick:

Pitting extreme innocence against extreme depravity

Edna O’Brien Week on the magic tricks site. And that’s good news because these are amazing stories.

“Irish Revel” goes way back to 1962 when it was published in The New Yorker as “Come Into The Drawing Room, Doris,” a title that gets at the sinister forces at work against the story’s protagonist. Her name is Mary, by the way; not Doris. Her admirer is too drunk to care. It’s scary stuff.

Yet it starts out so innocent. Mary is a 17-year-old country girl headed to her first party in the city. The last time the outside world crept into her life – the arrival and brief stay of a painter from Italy at her parents’ home – played out like some kind of fairy tale, albeit one with a sad ending. So she assumes that this next foray into society will pick up that fairy tale where it left off.

Not so.

The distance between the expectation – in both her mind and the reader’s – and the reality we find at the party is jarring. So jarring that it almost feels like a horror tale. The monsters are real – sad, selfish adults making sad, selfish decisions. The collision of extreme innocence with extreme depravity makes for a great story. It’s not even her innocence. It’s the fact that she is ready to ditch her innocence. She is ready to ditch the quiet, repetitive life of her mountain home. She expects to find a beautiful, exciting alternative. What she finds instead is so awful, she longs for the quiet mountain home again. And that’s quite a trick on O’Brien’s part.

The selection:

Two long years since; but she had never given up hoping – perhaps this evening. The mail-car man said that someone special in the Commercial Hotel expected her. She felt such happiness. She spoke to her bicycle, and it seemed to her that her happiness somehow glowed in the pearliness of the cold sky, in the frosted fields going blue in the dusk, in the cottage windows she passed. Her father and mother were rich and cheerful; the twin had no earache, the kitchen fire did not smoke. Now and then she smiled at the thought of how she would appear to him – taller and with breasts now, and a dress that could be worn anywhere. She forgot about the rotted tire, got up, and cycled.

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