FLOTSAM AND JETSAM

Aidan Higgins, Author
Aidan Higgins, Author . Dalkey Archive $13.95 (470p) ISBN 978-1-56478-316-5
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This collection of short fiction by one of Ireland's intransigent modernists follows, roughly, the chronological order in which the works were written. "Asylum," a novella from the early period, is an Anglo-Irish tale of a mad Englishman fallen on hard times. Eddy Brazill is the son of a manager of an estate in Ireland. He's one of the many who eventually make the crossing to England, taking a series of starvation-wage jobs in London until he is saved from utter starvation by an old acquaintance, Ben Boucher, a deaf, alcoholic toff who proposes that Eddy become his personal servant while he dries out at a sanatorium in Stye, an English coastal town. Boucher's type—eccentric, sexually tormented and pathetic—seems attractive to Higgins. In "Catchpole," the eponymous hero is a very odd married man down on his luck on the south coast of Spain, telling the narrator his life story, which mainly consists of sundry degradations involving a polyglot rough trade. His wedding is emblematic of his career: "The reception was rather grand, the house full of the most proper people.... Later that night the mother-in-law unexpectedly came upon the best man under the groom on the grassy verge of the front drive." Late in his career, his stories become more autobiographical. Such texts as "The Bird I Fancied" and "Sodden Fields" combine opaque personal references and a tumble of images connected by suppressed transitions. In "Sodden Fields," the most successful of these stories, this results in paragraphs that sometimes startle with Brueghel-like images. Determinedly odd and aesthetically uncompromising, Higgins's fiction is not for everyone, but this collection will amply satisfy the discerning few who savor his work. (Mar. 15)

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