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Cal Doyle reviews Dave Lordan's début collection of fiction 'frags'





Cal Doyle

Cal Doyle's poetry has appeared in a number of magazines and journals. He has read as part of Poetry Ireland's Introductions Series and is the poetry editor for Wordlegs. He lives and studies in Cork.











First Book of Frags by Dave Lordan

First Book of Frags

Dave Lordan

(Wurm Press, 2012)

ISBN: 978-0956373243

£9 paperback (also available on Kindle)

Buy from Amazon





Dave Lordan’s début volume of fiction First Book of Frags comes close to being uncategorizable, which is perhaps how the author would like the work to be approached. It is not a collection of short fiction; it rows too close to prose poetry. Neither is it prose poetry; at times the prose becomes didactic, breaking the spells that prose poems depend upon to work. The frags are too long to be considered "flash". The frags are post-modern, yet paradoxically they maintain an essentialist philosophical core. They are populist yet singular. The frags (like the dust-jacket notes) are experimental and accessible, but more than that: the frags are an experiment in accessibility. The frags … well, the frags are frags, basically.


Taking all of that on board, the book is not “a new literature” or a “true original”. Sentences such as “Betty would surely agree, given how she was lying there like an advertisement for pool orgies” wouldn’t feel a million miles out of place in the fiction of Kevin Barry, say. And writing sentences that might slot straight into the work of one of our most lauded and visible practitioners of short-form fiction isn’t exactly blazing a trail of originality, is it?


But the story that that sentence is extracted from, ‘Dr. Essler’s Cocaine’, while far from being perfect, is really, almost preposterously, original. Perhaps it’s the historical-revisionist element working with the thinly veiled allusion to the Church’s abuse of so many in its laundry houses. It could be the cocaine: Lordan could simply have written a story ‘about’ the laundries, but without the cocaine (read: Karl Marx’s "opiate of the masses") he couldn’t have implicated the wider society for turning its head while its daughters, nieces and sister-in-laws were being tortured. He’s not going for the institutions alone, he is staring everybody in the eye while he’s doing it. Like I’ve noted above, the story isn’t perfect. There are passages where the narrative veil slips, and instead of the creepy and oddly compelling narrator confessing his sexualized debauchery (Lordan knows his Foucault, clearly) we find the author telling us that “the Irishman does not care what his masters get up to as long as he is allowed to get drunk and lash out at his own.” Which is true, and it does serve the fiction, but it distracts the reader from the tension developed in the piece.


One of the most powerful pieces in the book is ‘The Fucking Titanic’ where we are invited to listen to some of the cruise liner’s victims’ voices. By juxtaposing a series of frightening monologues the author offers a welcome counterpoint to the sepia-toned remembrance platitudes of the ship’s centennial "celebrations" of last year. A mother drowns her infant. The "toffs" fire rounds at the working class. A philosopher muses while he drowns. There is no narrative, as where does narrative fit into death?  Death is present tense, “a billion years is the same as one where I am,” notes one mother seeking her child, tragedy does not need to be explained: it just needs to be shown to be fully understood.


In his influential essay ‘E Unibus Pluram’ David Foster Wallace notes that:


Realism made the strange familiar. Today, when we can eat Tex-Mex with chopsticks while listening to reggae and watching a Soviet-satellite newscast of the Berlin Wall's fall – i.e. when darn near everything presents itself as familiar – it's not a surprise that some of today's most ambitious "realistic" fiction is going about trying to make the familiar strange.


This rendering of the familiar into the strange is executed admirably in ‘Attacks on the House’. The addressee is instantly recognisable as your day-to-day housing estate asshole, but how Lordan fleshes him out and implicates him in some fairly horrific crimes defies what you’d expect of a short story. This is not the "new sincerity"; this is a frag working overtime to show the reader how-it-is, that is, if the reader is prepared to open her eyes.


First Book of Frags isn’t an original or visionary collection of prose, the technical flaws which are present in almost every single one can jar a little (Lordan would probably counter that “technique is only paranoia with a plan”) and the narrative elements can feel like arbitrary corridors in between paragraphs of transcendent, life altering, prose (‘Christmas Cracker’, ‘Street Party’) only add to the suspicion that the book is only a draft or two away from becoming an instant counter-cultural classic. First Book of Frags, although flawed, is a book that demands your attention and it marks Mr Lordan out to be a short-story writer of serious promise. Ignore it at your peril.


©2013 Cal Doyle



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