Monday, March 31, 2008

Reader's Diary #340- Sean O' Faolain: The Trout

Short Story Monday

river Tweed brown trout released, Scotla by oddobjects, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  oddobjects
Sean O'Faolain's short story "The Trout" brought back an unexpected childhood memory for me. Julia, a twelve year old girl, is on summer vacation with her family when she happens to discover a secluded well, a well that holds a mystery trout.

Merits of the story aside for the moment, my father also used to keep a trout in our drinking well. It all came back to me as I read this: how he'd sometimes take the cover off and me and my sister would peer down into our silhouettes below and see who'd be the first to spy the little imprisoned fish. Why did he keep it there? No one in "The Trout" could come up with a satisfactory answer, and when I called to question my father about it today, he didn't really know either. "To catch the bugs," he supposed, but he'd no idea where the idea came from in the first place. Nor did the thought of fish poop seem to phase him. Anyway, when I tried the Internet to dig deeper into this bizarre tradition, all I could find was a few sites that mentioned other stories involving trouts in wells. According to one source, "These trout stories are common all over Ireland." Another told of a Scottish version of Snow White, in which a talking well trout replaces the magic mirror. Though my ancestry is British, I'm guessing similar tales influenced my father.

Sound cruel? Don't call PETA on my father just yet-- the trout has long been removed from his well. Julia was also bothered by the inhumanity. In fact, she couldn't get it off her mind and couldn't enjoy her vacation knowing it was there. This, perhaps predictably, leads to a decision to rescue the creature.

The version I've linked to is from "The Global Classroom" which provides a bit of background information (unfortunately it doesn't shed any light on why the fish in the well) and a few study questions. The question that caught my eye asked "What definition of maturity, or growing up, does the story convey?" I wondered about that one. Julia is twelve, and Faolain obviously picked an age at the cusp of adolescence for a reason. He remarks on several occasions what the age means; "...that age little girls are beginning to suspect most stories", "she knew that there are no such things as fairy godmothers" and so forth. But, these are lessons learned prior to the story and in that case, doesn't fit the bill for a coming-of-age story. Perhaps the only thing that could characterize it as such is Julia's final act, and I'm not sure even that is necessarily a defining decision.

But coming-of-age story or not, I enjoyed it. The story itself is simply told, rich in setting, and the characters are likable.

The Soundtrack:
1. Have You Fed The Fish?- Badly Drawn Boy
2. Tourist Trap- Bright Eyes
3. So Cruel- U2
4. Child of The Moon- The Rolling Stones
5. Running Down A Dream- Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Cross posted at The Short Story Reading Challenge.


Allison said...

I have never heard of a trout down a well before, nor have I heard Tourist Trap by Bright Eyes. A learning Monday for me!

Stephanie said...

Wow. That is the weirdest thing I've ever heard of!! Strange.

Sounds like a good story though! Is is all Irish tales for the month of March??

John Mutford said...

Allison: When you go back to Europe, maybe you can ask around if people know why they did that. It seems to stem from that part of the world. "Tourist Trap" is from the Four Winds EP.

Stephanie: Twas all Irish stories, yes. A little St. Paddy's Day tribute, I guess.