Raymond Carver's What We Talk About When We Talk About Love when I was still in Sixth Form and I found most of his stories inaccessible and alarming. Though I have since come to see the error of my youthful ways, I haven't felt the need to buy any more short stories in the same way that I felt the need to buy everything Ali Smith has ever published. This may be why when I picked up Ryan O'Neill's The Weight of a Human Heart, I was surprised by just how much I enjoyed it.Though I own many, many, many books, it has never before occurred to me that among my own personal library I only possess one collection of short stories. I bought
At his best, O'Neill presents wonderfully colourful and interesting stories that, though short, leave you feeling entirely satisfied with their strong wit, structure and completeness. The first story, that gives the collection its name, was my favourite due to its focus on what was internally important to people's lives. The ins and outs and economics of their lives are left at the wayside as habits, memories and relationships take presidency in the tales told with an exceptionally interesting style. There is a literary theme to almost every story, each either being about story telling or language in its own way, and this links them wonderfully together, whilst simultaneously showing how important books are in all their forms to different people. I concede I may be a little biased in my enjoyment of that element.
O'Neill is most successful when he is portraying parents and children, since his lovers can be so cruel it makes you wince. The difficulty of dealing with your parents as you become an adult is beautifully portrayed and several stories had me in tears more than once. The only fault I could find was that sometimes O'Neill is a little too clever for his own good, and in attempting to make a linguistic point about form strays a little too far away from good storytelling. However, these episodes are interesting in themselves and, due to the nature of the book, mercifully short. On the whole, each story leaves you with something to think about, and the vast variety of characters and tone within this collection makes it consistantly interesting to read.
Even if, like me, you wouldn't normally choose short stories, I would say that O'Neill presents a very strong argument for making a change.