Wednesday, March 14, 2012

"The Wine Breath" by John McGahern

Source: The New Yorker Fiction Podcast (mp3)
Length: 39 minutes
Reader: Yiyun Li

The story: Each year, The Reading Life hosts Irish Short Story week during the week of Saint Patrick's Day. Last year, I listened to stories from two familiar Irish writers, "The Dead" by James Joyce and "My Oedipus Complex" by Frank O'Connor. This year, I'm branching out to an Irish writer I had never encountered before, John McGahern.

This story is a quiet, wistful reflection on the paths a life can take as it travels toward the inevitable death. These types of stories with almost no plot don't usually appeal to me. However, McGahern keeps the story interesting by opening new insights into the life of his main character, a priest, as the narrative jumps from the present to the priest's memories. The absence of any clear plot reinforces the seeming aimlessness of the priest's life, yet the fact that there is a plot, hidden beneath flashbacks and descriptions, hints that we can impose a meaning on our lives whether or not any true meaning exists.

Rating: 8 /10

The reader: Li has a noticeable Chinese accent which can make it difficult to understand individual words. Since I routinely speak with native Chinese speakers on a daily basis, I did not find the accent distracting, but others may dislike this reading. Avoiding this story for the accent alone would be unfortunate, since it's a quite good story and Li otherwise does a decent job of reading it. The conversation with fiction editor Deborah Treisman opened up new ideas for me about the story and inspired me to listen to it a second time.

(photo by bripod via flickr. Creative Commons Attribution, Non-Commercial)