‘An Attack Of Hunger’ by Maeve Brennan

An Attack Of Hunger by Maeve Brennan, 1962

The magic trick:

Giving the reader access to Mrs. Derdon’s pathetic daydreams

This poor Derdon family is never happy in Maeve Brennan stories. This one is particularly bleak. Mrs. Derdon desperately misses her son, John, who has left to pursue the priesthood. She loathes her new life. She loathes the routines. She especially loathes her husband. The story has a neat way of showing us just how unhappy she is, too. Throughout the story, the narration will often drift into Mrs. Derdon’s thoughts. So we get to see how she rationalizes her inertia. It’s her imagination. She keeps dreaming new scenarios to look forward to – mostly involving John’s return or her husband’s comeuppance. It’s sad. It’s more than sad. Let’s call it really, really sad. There’s nothing sadder than the pathetic daydreams we tell ourselves in order to get through this life. And that’s quite a trick on Brennan’s part.

The selection:

In the first dream, John came back. In this dream, she was watching for him at the front window, and when he turned the corner she went to open the front door for him, but then she wanted him to have his first glimpse of her framed in the window and she went back and stood in the window (holding the net curtain aside with her hand) until he saw her and smiled. When he got to the low gate that opened backwards into her tiny front garden, she hurried into the hall to open the front door wide so that he could walk straight in and put his suitcase down in the hall, to get rid of the weight of it – he had never been very strong. Then they would look at each other and she would say, “I knew you’d be back, John.” Or she might put it this way: “I knew you’d come back to me, John.” And he would say, “You always knew what was best for me, Mother.”

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