Review - Lester Goran's "Tales from the Irish Club"

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This book has a clear sense of time, place, identity. It exists in the Ancient Order of Hibernians, Local No. 9, better known as the Irish Club, in the paroxysms of delight as speakers swap stories, intimate as kisses between lovers. All the stories revolve around people who came through its doors. At its heart is the melancholy and the whimsical. Every story seems to start with a kind of unspoken vernacular..."Let me tell a story about this guy I once knew..." There is also a sense that the people of these tales are somehow forgotten. There is a sense that these stories would be told forever as long as the Irish Club still existed. But then, inexplicably, it stopped existing. Such is the passage of time that things long thought immutable are swept away by the great tide of history.

This is Lester at his grandest. At a punchy 130 odd pages, there seems no misplaced word, not an extra syllable. Every page seems more necessary somehow...perhaps punctuated by the stories that were surely left out. There is a humble simplicity that makes the book feel as if telling a story about locals is somehow epic. Is that possible, could it be true that epic story-telling can exist at the level of the local?

Of course, it's true. All good story-telling is local storytelling. It doesn't matter if you've never had the peanuts at Forbes Field or that you've never seen with your own eyes a great boxer slowly descend into a drunk stumblebum, never had hallucinations about prostitutes a few years into marriage...all these things come through somehow in melancholy clarity because every detail seems to ring right and true.

After all, good writing is like love. It can run like a poison through your bloodstream, destroying everything before it and leaving you wanting more.

And there is the lesson for all young writers: let your writing be a world unto itself, every detail a link to a larger world, no matter how small the size of your story or slender the size of your volume. Make every world feel part of something bigger like the Ancient Order of Hibernians, Local No. 9. Do this, and your stories will live on.

For older writers, what wisdom does Lester hold for you? Perhaps this: "The race was it; and that was over. Age brought not wisdom: visited on a simple saloon-keeper the wrong truths" (p. 104). The race is everything. Run till there is nothing left and ask nothing more of writing and the world.

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