Lantern Slides

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The twelve stories that compose LANTERN SLIDES resonate with voices shadowed by loss. Recounting partings and betrayals, dull with bewilderment or sharp with acrimony, these voices modulate with irony. Countryfolk and cityfolk, and especially women and children—none is immune from loneliness and the extreme measures demanded of its victims. These ostracized, restless souls fuse into a prism, agitating light.

Accursed or otherwise bewitched by love, O’Brien’s characters drift in and out of focus. Their portraits are like “posters on the facings of cable boxes, torn faces, torn half-faces.” Theirs is a litany of missed moments of grace.

As a landscape for these desperate lives, O’Brien deftly sketches village backwaters—where tombstones are “huge white lozenges of lichen”—as well as shabby resorts, overheated nursing homes, and furtive hideaways. In this world, lies have “all the sweetness and freshness of truth,” and people die with “that secret,” which is love, “buried inside their souls.”

O’Brien writes with the peculiar blend of grotesqueness and humanity, of menace and mischief, that characterizes the work of fellow Irishmen Joyce, Beckett, and Behan. A writer of plays and film scripts as well as novels, she crafts her dialogue with a perfect economy of meaning and effect.

Moving through their lives with the awkwardness of silent-film actors, their stories pouring from projectors mistimed to the original filming, the characters in LANTERN SLIDES illuminate our imaginations, if fitfully.