Short Story Review: ‘Small Town Removal’

Story Title: Small Town Removal
Collection/Anthology?: Not applicable. Available for free download (PDF format) from the Costa Short Story Award website.
Briefly: Michael Sweeney arrives to his home town from Dublin to attend his father’s funeral. It’s a time for quiet reflection and for Michael to remember a town and a family that he left behind.
Afterthoughts: This story has something of a Kevin Barry feel to it, but I don’t know, it just doesn’t read quite as sharply as a Barry tale, and the dialogue, what little there is of it, isn’t as crisp or as animated as one might expect from the Irish maestro.

Regardless of who authored Small Town Removal (and I’m still not totally convinced that it didn’t come from the pen of Kevin Barry), it’s an accomplished creation. The feeling of ‘small town’ is captured beautifully, as is that melancholic and unsettled atmosphere that always hangs in the air in the hours before a funeral; an atmosphere that is especially pronounced in the story’s small town setting.

But Small Town Removal is not so much about a funeral, or even about a distant son arriving home to pay his respects to a passing father. No, it’s more about the fractures that can beset a family when a driving force behind a family is removed. And it soon becomes clear when reading Small Town Removal that the heart of Michael’s family had been ripped out long before the passing of his father, John Joseph. It all makes for a story that’s quite affecting. It’s the kind of tale that lingers, and for this reason I highly recommend that others read it.

Notable quote: His mother had been a big, bright woman. Mary Sweeney that used to be a Kelly. Mary who smelt of Lifebuoy soap and ‘Evening in Paris’, splashed from the blue bottle beside her bed. She had cooked and washed, ironed and laughed. She had chased Michael and his brothers with a wooden spoon but had never laid a hand on them.

She had kept John Joseph in socks and manners. When he ran for the council she was the one who stood on the Chapel steps talking to the women, getting them to haul their husbands down to the school on election day.

Rating: ★★★★½

costa_book_awards75 This story was read as preparation for casting a vote for the 2012 Costa Short Story Award. In all, six stories were selected by the award panel before being put to the public vote. All stories were presented without note of the author, so that each story would be judged on merit alone. For further details, please visit the Costa Short Story Award website.

About Rob

Rob, a self-confessed bibliophile, is without any hope of rehabilitation. He gets unnaturally excited over anything book-shaped, and if book sniffing were a crime then he would have been locked up years ago (which wouldn't bother him in the slightest provided his cell was lined with books).