Upturned by Frank O’Connor, 1944
The magic trick:
Creating a single-day adventure that forces its characters to reckon with the choices they’ve made in life
Of all the Frank O’Connor stories I’ve read, this strikes me as the Dubliners-est.
This is a world – just like the one James Joyce describes – where life decisions are one-time deals. You make your choice, where to live, who to marry, who to forgive, who to tolerate, what work to take, etc. And you live with the consequences, no second chances.
“Upturned” – again, like so many of the tales in Dubliners – focuses on the heartbreaking moment when its protagonists not only realize that they will get no second chance to redo their decision but also that they’ve discovered an alternative they wish they’d selected instead.
It’d be almost cruel as a storytelling technique if it weren’t so powerful.
And that’s quite a trick on O’Connor’s part.
He no longer knew why he had come to the city, but it as not for the sake of the bed-sitting room in Rathmines, the oblong of dusty garden outside the window, the trams clanging up and down, the shelf full of second-hand books, or the occasional visit to the pictures. Half humorously, half despairingly, he would sometimes clutch his head in his hands and admit to himself that he had no notion of what he wanted. He would have liked to leave it all and go to Glasgow or New York as a laborer, not because he was romantic, but because he felt that only when he had to work with his hands for a living and was no longer sure of his bed would he find out what all his ideals and emotions meant and where he could fit them into the scheme of his life.
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