The Mad Lomasneys by Frank O’Connor, 1944
The magic trick:
Big characters who could easily become cartoonish but instead fit into a very believable version of reality
Probably not the most famous Frank O’Connor story. Maybe not even the best.
But definitely my favorite of his stories. It’s just about a perfect short story, as far as I’m concerned.
It moves quickly but never feels rushed.
The dialogue is loud and precise (the characters always seem to know just the perfect thing to say at all times), but it never feels too stagey.
And the characters are simply remarkable. In fact, I think that’s really the key to the story. The characters are big, bold, capital C Characters. Very Dickensian in that way. You don’t forget them scene to scene, and you don’t need more than one scene to get to know them.
And while that can be a very appealing kind of writing in itself, such treatment also risks becoming cartoonish. It’s hard to analyze the actions of characters that seem to only have one dimension.
But that’s really where the magic lies in “The Mad Lomasneys.”
Yes, the characters are big. But no, they are not so big that the story’s reality distorts.
Every moment of the story remains centered in realism, so that the reader can assess the characters’ actions and decisions as we would “real” human behavior.
And that’s quite a trick on O’Connor’s part.
“Do you read much, Miss Lomasney?”
“I couldn’t be bothered.”
“I read all sorts of books,” he said enthusiastically. “And as well as that, I’m learning the violin from Miss Maude on the Parade. Of course, it’s very difficult, because it’s all classical music.”
“What’s classical music?” she asked with sudden interest.
“Maritana is classical music,” he replied eagerly. He was a bit of a puzzle to Rita. She had never before met anyone with such a passion for handing out instruction. “Were you at Maritana in the opera house, Miss Lomasney?”
“I was never there at all,” she said curtly.
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