Sunday Stories: The Long and Painful Death by Claire KeeganSeptember 20, 2009
“The Long and Painful Death” is a short story near the end of the collection by Claire Keegan called Walk the Blue Fields. It is unfortunate that this is the first story that I’m writing about here, because I feel that it differs quite a bit from the other stories in the collection that I’ve read. However, I still enjoyed the narrative and the writing. I simply just don’t feel that it is a good representation of the stories in this book.
In this story, a writer who is temporarily living in Heinrich Böll’s Irish house finds herself unable to write because of an intrusion by an unwanted visitor. In retaliation, the author later writes a story about the visitor dying a long and painful death.
There were parts of this story that resonated with me, like the writer’s frustration that the impending visitor has filled her day with chores and anxiety that make writing impossible. I also enjoyed how Keegan explored the idea of revenge. The writer’s form of revenge is the best kind–it’s not destructive, and it helps her rediscover her ability to write. Compared to some of the other forms of revenge that we’ve seen in this book, especially the fire in “The Forester’s Daughter,” writing a cruel story seems harmless and maybe even productive.
The only part of this story that irked me was that it appeared autobiographical. It almost felt as if the story were a journal entry that only required minor editing. I usually don’t mind an author using autobiographical information, but in this case, the discrepancy with the other stories just felt jarring. The setting of the other stories in this collection is in an ethereal, eternal Ireland. This story seems like it could have taken place anywhere, with any writer. Sure, it was an important plot point that the house was famous, but the story could easily have been picked up and plopped down in Robert Frost’s house and would have worked just as well. I suppose that in the other stories, I’ve felt that Ireland was one of the characters, and it this one, it was simply a backdrop.