Monday, May 03, 2010

Reader's Diary #608- Liam O'Flaherty: The Sniper

I've never been a big fan of war stories... unless there's a sniper involved. Three Day Road, The Cellist of Sarajevo? I love them. Not only do snipers add to the excitement, but there's also the whole psychological complexity of killing someone from afar, unknown and unseen to them. Does that make it easier for the killer? What does it do to their mental health in the long term? And what about those being hunted? Anyone can drop dead at any second, but a sniper increases your odds it'll be sooner rather than later. How can people cope living under such fear? It's a deep, dark topic to be exploring.

Yet writers do. Long before Joseph Boyden and Steven Galloway took up the theme, Ireland's Liam O'Flaherty wrote "The Sniper and you'll find many similarities: the intensity, the detachment. Even some of the details are similar-- in both O'Flaherty's and Boyden's stories lit cigarettes become a perfect sniper's target (we get it, cigarettes can kill you).

However, I didn't enjoy O'Flaherty's story as much as those other novels. His scenic descriptions are just as strong (I love the opening paragraph), but I felt the story relied too much on a surprise ending that wasn't all that explosive. I can appreciate surprise endings, but they have to change my whole outlook of the preceding story. O'Flaherty's ending simply took a sad tale and made it sadder. Or it might be that this particular surprise has been done over and over again in stories and plays before and since; it's a surprise ending considering the lack of clues in this individual story (which could be another fault), but not considering literature itself.

I've also considered that short stories may not be the best form to present snipers. These people are worthy of whole case studies. I'm not sure a short story can accomplish all that in such a little space. Then again, I've heard similar arguments about short stories in general and my usual response is, "you just haven't read the good ones." How about it? Know any good short stories about snipers?

(Did you write a post for Short Story Monday? If so, please leave a link in the comments below.)


Teddy Rose said...

I haven't read any short stories with snipers. I loved Three Day Road, I wonder if Joseph Boyden could do one. I haven't read any of his shorts.

I decided on something lite this week. Here's my short: Death by Scrabble

John Mutford said...

Teddy: Ooops, your link doesn't work. Here is Teddy's post.

Anonymous said...

May is short story month. A month of Mondays?

Anonymous said...

I'm not one for war stories, even those with snipers.

I picked the same one as Teddy Rose this week, entirely by coincidence.

John Mutford said...

Nathalie: I haven't heard too much about short story month. Is the goal to read one a day?

Carolsnotebook: I often find war novels (the sniperless ones) boring. Then I feel guilty and somehow disrespectful towards veterans. All those Remembrance Day ceremonies back in my school days have instilled a healthy dose of guilt.

Teddy Rose said...

Thanks for correcting that for me John.

´´Saray´´ said...

There is a sniper in a short story I truly loved reading a few years back. His character only occupies a few lines of text (and the story is 23 pages long...) but thought of mentioning it as it�s really good.
�Naming the Names� by Anne Devlin and included in the Scribner Book of Irish Writing (Scribner, 2001).
A collection I highly recommend.