The Love Object is a collection of short stories by Irish writer Edna O’Brien that I picked up on a total whim when I was in Indigo a few weeks ago. I haven’t tackled a short story collection in a very long time, but I have always been incredibly fond of the medium. Alice Munro (I think we can all agree this woman can do no wrong – makes me proud to be Canadian!) and Mavis Gallant are literary geniuses in my opinion, and when I dabbled in creative writing classes myself in university, I always chose to write short stories rather than delving into any longer pieces (or shorter ones – I’m definitely not a poet!).
The trouble, for me, with reading a short story collection is that there will always be standout stories that are memorable and will go down as favourites, but there will also inevitably be those stories that are very difficult, and sometimes even painful, to get through. Having read a fair number of novels recently, I had to get myself into the flow and necessary mindset for reading short stories again, and I found it very tedious to finish the stories I wasn’t particularly fond of in The Love Object. I just felt that they lagged and lasted a lot longer than I wanted them to. At the same time, there were stories I devoured and never wanted to end, and those were the moments when I wished I wasn’t reading a short story collection and that I could live with those characters for a little while longer. For these reasons, I find it very hard to give a rating to a collection of short stories, because of course there are stories I really didn’t enjoy and would give a very low rating to, while there are those that I absolutely adored and will want to tell all my fellow readers about for weeks to come. To try and combat this issue of giving such a general rating to a large collection of stories of very different styles and genres, I’m going to pinpoint a few of O’Brien’s stories that I LOVED and a few that I really did not understand at all; the combination of my feelings towards all of these stories will justify my overall rating.
Stories I Didn’t Like At All
❥❥ (out of 5)
(I should note that O’Brien is, without doubt, a masterful storyteller, so even the stories I didn’t personally like are still worthy of a reasonable rating. O’Brien has a way of describing and focusing on elements of life that the average person wouldn’t even notice, and it is quite fascinating, even if I didn’t always enjoy the subject matter.)
1) Shovel Kings ~ Just plain boring! I feel like I had come to expect more from O’Brien by the time I got to this story.
2) Brother ~ So very confusing and hard to follow!
3) Inner Cowboy ~ Similar to Shovel Kings, and not in a good way.
These three stories were, for me, quite boring and I was just happy to be done with them.
Stories with Unexpected Subject Matter
❥❥❥ (out of 5)
1) Plunder ~ Extremely emotional and unlike anything else in the collection; tough subject matter that O’Brien treats with grace and sympathy.
2) Black Flower ~ I was genuinely surprised by this one and the relationship it describes. I was also very curious about the main characters and almost felt that the story was too short because their feelings and actions didn’t seem justified or properly explained.
Stories I LOVED!!!
❥❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)
In order from the story I loved the least to the one I loved the most…
6) A Rose in the Heart of New York ~ Very sentimental and moving! I nearly cried while reading this one because it was such a complex and emotional take on a mother-daughter relationship. (Honourable mention to My Two Mothers, which seemed to be the same story, just retold.)
4) The Love Object
~ These two stories seemed somewhat interchangeable and very similar in feel and tone, and I thoroughly enjoyed them both.
3) Madame Cassandra ~ A very well-written internal monologue. It was so vividly portrayed that I could almost see an actress performing it on stage.
2) Manhattan Medley ~ I got into the heart and soul of this narrator, and it took my breath away!
1) Long Distance ~ I loved loved LOVED this short story!!! It was a complete game changer for me, early on in my reading of the collection, mainly because it was so reminiscent of a Munro or Gallant story. It had beautiful pacing and imagery and was so very haunting. Although the characters were nameless, we as readers get so close to them, almost inside them, even in such a short story. This is a masterfully written text and is gorgeous in its simplicity ~ a snapshot of love in a moment in time. Long Distance is a story with subject matter that I myself have tried to write about many times, but I will never be able to come close to creating a story as genius as the one O’Brien tells!
O’Brien’s writing style is abstract, in the sense that the reader has to put together the threads she drops to try and paint a complete picture of her characters and settings. Each story has a tragic and heart wrenching quality, and I can see why so many other authors, such as Munro and Philip Roth who are both quoted as praising the collection, are so impressed by her. My one real annoyance is that I never quite understood any of O’Brien’s titles and didn’t feel like they ever really fit with the story they represented – but titles are a tricky thing, and I’m sure she had her reasons for selecting them, so I won’t hold that against her or my favourite stories.
Overall rating: ❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)
Girl with a Green Heart