Monday, March 22, 2010

Short Story Monday: "Slade" by Frank Ronan

The March celebration of Irish authors continues. This week's story is from The Penguin Book of Irish Fiction, edited by Colm Toibin. I decided to read an unfamiliar author and selected "Slade" by Frank Ronan.

A quick check of Irish Writers Online provided this biographical info:
Frank Ronan was born in New Ross, Co Wexford in 1963.
His first novel, The Man Who Loved Evelyn Cotton (London, Bloomsbury, 1989), received the Irish Times/Aer Lingus Irish Literature Prize. His subsequent novels include A Picnic in Eden (Bloomsbury, 1991); The Better Angel (Bloomsbury, 1992); Lovely (London, Sceptre, 1995); and Home (Sceptre, 2002).
His stories are collected as Dixie Chicken (London, Hodder & Stoughton, 1994).
He has lived in France and England.

"Slade" begins:
"We had lived on peaches alone in Monte Carlo, and slept on half the beaches in the northern half of the Mediterranean; had outstayed our welcome in the houses of Italians and watched a naked, muscular Dutchman, with dreadlocks halfway down his glistening black back, play Macbeth in a scaffolding castle on the polder. We played it gay and straight, depending on whom we didn't want to sleep with, for Emma was saving herself for a romantically thin man at Manchester University, and I was just saving myself."

The narrator then finds himself alone and hitch-hiking to Germany to be with his friend Donald, who is working at a gherkin pickling factory (and living in its dormitory) for the summer. The workers posses an intense hatred of the owner, Frau Jater, who prizes the cherry tree in her yard above all else. They are plotting to" kill or maim" the tree.
"Since Donald was the only reason I had come to that place, I'd watch him to see if he was more in favour of the tree or against the Jaters, but he had other problems that summer and was more disconnected than his usual, ethereal self. Because there wasn't a spare bed, and because I wasn't supposed to be there at all, I slept in the same bed as him, which was how I would have slept for preference in any case. We assumed that it was assumed that we were lovers. And that was fine, because it was part of the elaborate double bluff we played on ourselves..."
As the story continues, there is growing unrest and a strike by the workers, and drama involving Donald and the narrator climaxing with the narrator offering the means to kill the cherry tree.
'Salt,' I said, wiping the back of my salted face on Donald's shirt. 'You can kill the tree with a strong solution of salt, and no one will be the wiser.'
Overall, I was disappointed. There are surely associations and meanings that were lost on me. If you're familiar with this author or story, please clue me in.... I'm afraid I missed the point.

Short Story Monday is hosted by John Mutford at The Book Mine Set.


  1. Actually, I quite enjoyed the excerpts you've picked out!

  2. John - I really liked the writing. The opening drew me right in. I feel like I missed the significance or symbolism of the cherry tree, and what was really happening with Donald.

  3. Sounds very interesting - thanks for sharing


  4. I'm not familiar with the author so I can't be of any help, but I'm sorry tp hear you were let down!

  5. That so stinks when you're disappointed!! Sorry!

  6. Wow. I actually found this quite interesting. Sorry you didn't connect at the end, but that does happen, doesn't it?

  7. oh, I'm sorry it didn't work out. :-( better luck next time. at least with short stories, it's not a huge investment of time.

  8. Hannah Stoneham - It was interesting, but I don't think I managed to take it all in.

    Nymeth - It's so frustrating to feel like you've 'missed something'.

    Staci - Thanks. I can't expect every short story to bowl me over.

    DS - The writing was so good but, even reading it twice, I think I was missing something important.

    Marie - It's funny, but that's one of the reasons I like short stories so much. I can try new authors and styles, and if they don't work out, the time investment is not huge.

  9. I'm probably not the best person to give a directional word with short stories. You pretty much have to hit me over the head with the plot. I did like the excerpts, but those do not a short story make.

  10. When I saw Kill a cherry tree, I could help but think of George Washinton chopping one down. LOL! I know thats of no help to you. Without reading the story, could it be symblisim for wanting to kill a person. Just a wild guess.

  11. Sandy - LOL! This was a strange experience because I really liked the writing... Oh well, there's always next week.

    Teddy Rose - George Washington ran through my mind at one point, too!

  12. I wasn't going to leave a comment because I found the story so unappealing, until I read your words at the end. I'm not big on symbolism, but also I didn't like these characters.

  13. Nan - Yes, unfortunately this story jut didn't work for me. While I really appreciated the writing, I just couldn't connect and felt like I missed something. Thought of you the other day when I ordered a collection of FSF's stories from amazon!

  14. I've recently been introduced to the works of Irish writers like Frank O'Connor and William Trevor, and I must say that I'm very impressed with the emotional depth of their writing. I think I'm gonna love Irish fiction... Thanks for this review JoAnn!

  15. Mark David - I read "First Confession" by Frank O'Connor last week and loved it! Never got around to posting on it due to my aunt's death, but definitely want to read more of his work.


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