The Curfew by Roddy Doyle, 2019
The magic trick:
Taking a basic premise and adorning it with thoughtful additions that elevate it from simple story into a rumination on mortality
You can easily imagine that a minor health scare in his early old age directly inspired this story from Doyle. It’s essentially the story of a man who has had a particularly stressful doctor’s appointment.
He may have heart problems. He feels old. Are you bored yet?
But Doyle is not sloppy enough to think that that story alone is worth telling. At least not told in such a plain way. So he starts dressing up the story with some tasteful adornments. So as it turns out, this story isn’t boring at all. It becomes an excellent example of craft – a talented, experienced writer plying his trade in a way that elevates clichéd anecdote into touching, thoughtful art.
He adds a layer of metaphor in the form of a citywide curfew in Dublin for the man to contend with. There is a hurricane coming, which on the surface adds some suspense and specificity to the setting; but we of course recognize the curfew also as a neat way of thinking about the man’s health worries.
We also leave the story’s present day several times to drift back with the man’s memories of young fatherhood, his daughters as children, family vacations. Now this isn’t just a story about one man’s mortality. It’s a more complete rumination on the passage of time.
And that’s quite a trick on Doyle’s part.
He got his keys out. He’d have the right one ready when he got to the front door.
He remembered the weight of his youngest daughter, Cliona, in one of those slings. They hadn’t had one—they might not have been invented yet—for the other kids, the boy and the two older girls. They’d had a backpack thing, like a rucksack, for carrying them.
He’d hated the backpack, six or seven years of having the thing on his back, not being able to see the baby as he walked. He’d hated it until the child was old enough to grab his hair or his collar and he’d know it was fine back there. There was a day in Kerry, on a beach, years ago. The eldest, Ciara, was the baby in the backpack. He’d been up early that morning; it was his turn. He’d put her in the backpack, kissed her forehead, hoisted her onto his back, and gone walking. He hadn’t even checked the weather or looked out the window. If you’re able to see Brandon in the evening you’ll be grand, someone, some oul’ lad with a peaked cap, had told him. And he’d seen the mountain the night before—he was sure he had. So he’d fed Ciara, shoved a slice of bread into his mouth, and walked out the back door of the house they were renting for the week.
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