Paul O’Reilly’s stories are lean, no wastage, no linguistic tricksiness. A young man dances with his mother as the Pogues play (and it has to be the Pogues) in a scene that is at once sweet and Freudian. A woman discovers her teenage daughter has become embroiled in a text bullying three-way, and the tale unfolds with the gut-churning speed of a suspense novel. A man has a last rendezvous with a roadside prostitute; another man prepares to watch his father die; yet another crawls through a sewer tunnel of grief to find redemption in the bosom of family.
There’s no escape from the prevailing sense of tension. The title story’s stooge goes to Amsterdam for a match and ends up the butt of a stag-like prank, but it’s all too sad to be ironic. The protagonist of What’s Eating Him? is a sort of Jim Thompson drifter who appears to dodge a bullet in the final act, but you can’t be sure: O’Reilly cuts away at just the right moment and leaves us to complete the mystery in our minds. That takes confidence.
The Girl Missing From the Window does not attempt to forge poetry out of the everyday. The author refuses to photoshop reality with fancy language. He pushes all the unsavoury aspects of existence under your nose: the comedy and horror of mothers with Alzheimer’s and fathers hooked up to morphine pumps and swingers’ weekends gone horribly wrong — or horribly right. This is the way things are, these stories seem to say, and there’s a trapdoor under every footfall.
author of John the Revelator
and Shall We Gather at the River
Whether in a delicate tale of a few pages, or in the longer, more layered and textured stories, in his first collection Paul O’Reilly proves himself both daring and skillful. The work is deeply imagined, and explores painful themes – some of which could be from today’s headlines, while others are from a hidden, darkly sexual place. Only time can tell, but it seems probable that a number of stories here will stand with the very best being written today. What is certain is that they are powerful works of imagination, and herald a fine writer.
author of The Fabulists,
The Water Star and The Fisher Child