‘Guests Of The Nation’ by Frank O’Connor

Guests Of The Nation by Frank O’Connor, 1931

The magic trick:

Starting with a comedic tone before pushing the story into much darker territory

This is a story that sneaks up on you and smacks you upside the back of your head. The opening lulls into a false sense of comfort. Clearly, there is tension. It’s a war story, after all. But it mostly feels like a light domestic comedy.

It’s not.

Things turn quickly.

And if you’re like me, you read on assuming the best. I think several of the characters do the same. The personal should trump the political, right?

The resulting contrast is stunning.

And that’s quite a trick on O’Connor’s part.

The selection:

Now, it was a treat to see how Belcher got off with the old woman of the house we were staying in. She was a great warrant to scold, and crotchety even with us, but before ever she had a chance of giving our guests, as I may call them, a lick of her tongue, Belcher had made her his friend for life. She was breaking sticks at the time, and Belcher, who hadn’t been in the house for more than ten minutes, jumped up out of his seat and went across to her.

‘Allow me, madam,’ he says, smiling his queer little smile; ‘please allow me’, and takes the hatchet from her hand. She was struck too parlatic to speak, and ever after Belcher would be at her heels carrying a bucket, or basket, or load of turf, as the case might be. As Noble wittily remarked, he got into looking before she leapt, and hot water or any little thing she wanted Belcher would have it ready before her.

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