A Slanting of the Sun is Donal Ryan’s first collection of short stories. It is written in the same beautifully crafted poetic and uniquely Irish prose as his novels. All but one of the twenty stories are told in the first person, each with a distinctive voice. The characters cover a range of ages, sex and class—killers, both accidental and deliberate; the marginalized such as a young traveller girl and an African refugee; a priest in Syria; a shopkeeper in financial difficulty; the elderly looking back on lives lived and opportunities not taken; the hidden character of an ordinary woman working in a home for disabled adults. Violence, both physical and emotional, is a constant, either given or received through betrayal, theft and prejudice to outright abuse and murder. Those who commit this violence are able to justify it in some way, though they carry the weight of its consequences. Those on the receiving end sometimes, like a shaft of sunlight cutting through the murk, show forgiveness and understanding. The stories are not linear, beginning almost in the middle and slowly unfolding in a way the reveals what came before and with this fuller understanding, the reader’s sympathy shifts. Like life itself, few of these stories have a clear resolution. And while the stories are set mainly in rural Ireland, there is a universality of experience to all of them.
This may sound unbearably grim (and perhaps not the best reading for times like these) but there are two elements, characteristic of all Ryan’s writing, that lift the stories above the ordinary. He brings his characters, misfits and battlers, to life with a compassion that allows the reader to glimpse the internal struggles even of those who commit reprehensible acts. His prose is a lyrical mixture that is poetic, sometimes harshly abusive, and deeply imbued with Irish vernacular and the rhythm of its syntax.
All the stories have an element that lingers in the mind. The story that, for me, stands out vividly from the rest is ‘Long Puck’. A priest stationed in Syria brings together men from the disparate groupings in the village in a game of hurling. It contains the dual nature of humankind, soaring moments of common humanity and the depths of cruelty and betrayal. While the subject matter is never easy, Donal Ryan is always worth reading.
Another review here.