Thursday, 7 August 2014

The Goats are Singing - Banished Misfortune (2)

The Goats are Singing - 
Banished Misfortune (2) - Dermot Healy

Thoughts on the second story in Banished Misfortune, Dermot Healy's book of short stories published in 1982  and featuring stories from the preceding decade.

A Family and a Future
This is an odd story which is redolent of the sexual repression and abuse which overshadows Ireland's recent past. Set in the sixties, its main character is a woman called June who blithely satisfies her sexual desires with many men, and boys. The narrator is somewhat involved in the action early on, having an early (and somewhat traumatic) sexual experience with June, who is three years older.

The story shows how June and Benny get together. Benny, a labourer, treats June with respect but there are hiccups, including a child (or two) not Benny's. “June had mothered a child. By a solicitor, a priest, by myself, does it matter? That summer too her mother made it to the bath in time to vomit up a three foot tapeworm. The old lady’s skin and bone retreated under the shock. The release of the worm and birth of the child occurred within a week of each other. June grew thin again, her mother fattened.” Oddly these events bring the two women closer and when there is a fire that destroys some of their farm buildings Benny helps to rebuild them and while doing so rebuilds his relationship with June.

This is not a romantic world that Healy's characters inhabit. There will be obstacles to overcome, betrayals and failures. Characters are at the mercy of their bodies, and fate, and character itself. However, there is no excuse for betraying humanity by abuse of power or dismissing people as worthless. 

The narrator enters the story again as a friend of Benny and June, and Benny gets hurt rescuing the narrator from a beating: "I was mesmerised after a day's drinking, and in a drunken fashion attended to their every need, needing heroes myself, but at some point I got into an argument and was set upon by a couple of bastards from the town. They ripped at my face with fingers like spurs, broken glass tore at my throat. I heard the band breaking down, heels grated against my teeth. Lying there babbling and crying on the floor while the fight went on over my head. June came and hauled me free and Benny swung out left, right and centre. They caught Benny's eye a fearful blow and all I can remember is an Indian doctor in the hospital complaining of having had enough of attending to drunks in the middle of the night. But a nurse stitched my scalp back onto my head and my head back onto my body." This passage, and others in the book, remind me of The Pogues. Healy and McGowan eschew any kind of elitism, reaching out to the traditional while acknowledging the brokenness of society, and tradition, and ultimately, themselves.

June's innocent debauches and Benny's acceptance are a form of grace and resurrection. We all need both, from others and from ourselves, in order to achieve any kind of integration. Our shared humanity is finally stronger than our brokenness and alienation. “Benny and I stood together chatting. But aloof, too, from each other, for things change; sometimes you are only an observer, at other times you are involved intimately in other people’s lives, but now as a mere recorder of events and personages, the shock of alienation arrived on me, yet deeper than that the ultimate intimacy of disparate lives.”

Healy's vision is finally a hopeful one, and the strongest kind of hope, the hope that acknowledges despair.

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