Orange Horses

Tramp Press has done so much for Irish literature. They’re publishing great new books by women writers and publishing books that are experimenting with genre in such exciting ways. They also have re-issued books that are out of print and, my god, Maeve Kelly’s Orange Horses should have never been out of print. What a collection of stories.

These stories are fierce and unapologetic as they capture anger, shame, feelings of smallness, minor forms of resistance that often end in nothingness. They express the many indignities that women face as a matter of course, and how women register and respond to such indignities.

Reading these stories recently, I couldn’t quite believe the wonder that is “Parasites.” This story is about a woman who leaves Ireland for England, writes crisp, autobiographical novels, easily finds an audience and achieves success, and then falls in love with a poet. Loving the poet, she loses interest in her writing and her life, until she realizes that he is going to destroy her and calls him a parasite. His petty response to an admittedly harsh truth makes her lose her love for him and return to writing. The story ends, “She got out her typewriter and inserted foolscap. It would be a new story” (93).

The wonder of this story is partly its categorization of a particular type of man–the parasitical poet of this story certainly is familiar to many women–but also because of the way that it articulates a relationship between happiness, knowledge, and love. This woman is happiest when she’s writing. The time spent composing her first novel “were the happiest few months of her life” (88). And she’s unafraid of learning–the success of her writing results from her willingness to probe and dissect her experience. Presumably her experience with the poet will be the next thing to be analyzed by her pen. But she can’t quite figure out how to have knowledge, happiness, and love at the same time. When she lives with her love, her happiness ends. When she shares her knowledge with the poet, her love ends.

I read this story in two ways. First, as warning readers to be wary of love that makes you renounce your happiness or silence your knowledge. Second, as suggesting that although love can’t quite be grasped or captured by words–contemplating it, subjecting it to a probing gaze, representing it doesn’t quite work–it still can’t be left behind. The story suggests that leaving Ireland, this woman left a certain relationship to love. And it will haunt her until she claims it once again.

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