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Colum McCann’s “Aisling,” from our Summer 2010 issue, is a small thunderstorm of a story. The narrator’s life attacks rapidly, a barrage of associations and pathos and delight: “made more tea, rifled the cupboards, found the gin, opened the freezer, broke the ice, mixed the tonic, shook a cocktail, drank it down, recalled my husband, mutilated him twice, fair is fair, what he deserves, wept an aria, made another drink, iced it up, held the sink, poured it down, heard it gurgle, guilt and grace … ” McCann swerves and ducks within his own rhythms, disrupting the forward momentum and redefining the story’s constantly shifting focal point. Between the many commas stand immaculate phrases with some serious verve. And as one remark turns to the next, we’re left to track the narrator’s ever-changing tenor; we fall into something of an invigorated hypnotism, lulled and enthralled by the rhythmic narrative. Whatever this piece is (short story, prose poem, literary listicle), one thing is certain about McCann—dude knows how to swing. The story begins:
I woke up, opened the curtains, found my nightgown, made the bed, tightened the sheets, fluffed the pillows, donned my slippers, turned the tap, filled the kettle, hit the switch, boiled the water, brewed the tea, stirred the milk, climbed the stairs, woke the boys, combed their hair, straightened their curls, brushed their teeth, buttoned their buttons, zipped their zippers, checked their homework, poured their cornflakes, ladled the milk, toasted their toast, packed their lunches, checked their satchels, fixed their collars, tied their laces, wiped their noses, kissed their cheeks, unlocked the chain, crossed the threshold, tapped their bottoms, waved them off, ran the driveway, called their names, held their shoulders, kissed their foreheads, trudged on home, keyed the lock, climbed the stairs, brushed my teeth, washed my face, slipped on sandals, filled my clothes, ignored the mirror, jumped out the window and developed two huge wings on the way down. Of course I didn’t.