‘A Dead Cert’ by Sean O’Faolain

A Dead Cert by Sean O’Faolain, 1968

The magic trick:

Shifting the vibe and meaning of the story in the second half

We have a week of stories from one of the all-time underrated masters. Sean O’Faolain probably isn’t in the first five Irish authors you think of. And perhaps he shouldn’t be. That’s a tough list to crack. But, hey, that just means you should think of more than five Irish authors. He’s really good!

Today’s story deals, as many of his stories do, with potential marital infidelity. Everything points toward our story’s two central characters being together. Except they are not. Jenny is married to Billy; not Oweny Flynn. We anticipate their possible rendevous, almost as much as they do. But you’ve read that story before, right? It’s fine. It’s not new, though. Surely it’s not the stuff of a magic trick.

So we look further for our magic, and we find plenty in the story’s second half. It’s remarkable stuff. The tension finally breaks, and our would-be couple splits apart. We drift into Oweny’s thoughts as he imagines Jenny’s drive home. It’s presented not as a dream but as reality. But it’s not quite reality; we know it’s just his imagination. We get his imagined phone call, his imagined reconsideration of vacation plans together. Suddenly, we realize we’ve entered a loop. This series of events we’ve just read about wasn’t special; it was routine. It’s the agony ebb and flow of their friendship.

It’s a beautiful way to subtly shift the story. And that’s quite a trick on O’Faolain’s part.

The selection:

“Aren’t you interested?” she asked innocently.

“Isn’t it just a tiny little bit unfair?”

“But Billy would never know he’d been dead for a week. At most he’d just think he’d lost his memory or something. Don’t you suppose that’s what Lazarus thought? Oh! I see what you mean. Well, I suppose yes, I’d have betrayed Billy. That’s true enough, isn’t it?”

“I am not thinking of your good husband. I am thinking of the other unfortunate fellow when his week would be out!”

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