Backlit by the glow from a small passageway, he kneels into the fog of yellow light, head kissing the carpet. I step around him, respecting his privacy, when the mat becomes not prayer rug but builder’s tool, a black piece of tarmac, laid down before the bank so he could peer close, fix the dead motion sensor so that people with money could be seen, all doors opening for them.
Shazmina’s best friend, Gul Noor, died on a Monday, pinned down under the wheels of a speeding bus on the long road that stretched all the way down to the beach. Or maybe it happened on a Tuesday or a Saturday. Shazmina was never sure about the names for the days of the week. Monday-Thursday-Tuesday-Wednesday-Saturday melted, one into the other, like the trickles of oily water the buses left in their wake.
Joseph O’Neill is an Irish and Turkish writer who grew up in the Netherlands, practiced law in England, and now lives in New York City while teaching at Bard College. His novel Netherland won the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Kerry Group Irish Fiction Award and was praised by President Obama. O’Neill’s novel The Dog was nominated for the 2014 Booker Prize. He is known for sentences that are both precise and extravagant, that build on each other to undulating and dazzling effect. His work is founded on a bedrock sense of humor, and a healthy sense of the absurd is never far away. And yet his novels and stories are never merely funny; they are also rich excavations of character and observations of modern life. This keen eye, alongside evident empathy and wit are on display in his first collection of short stories, Good Trouble, which was released in 2019 and has been called “an essential book, full of unexpected bursts of meaning and beauty.” This conversation is adapted from O’Neill’s visit to Amherst College this winter.
“Miss Val! Miss Val!” A swarm of five-year-olds buzzes around me in the kindergarten playroom. Marni is standing in the middle, feet planted, lower lip sucked in, staring down her blood-coated finger from under her scrunched-up eyebrows as though the finger should have known better. This is leftover hubbub from bigger and scarier trouble in the courtyard, which involved a stuffed monkey, the edge of the sandbox, and a superficial but profusely bleeding head wound, but the ambulance has already left, whisking away the lollipop-loaded victim, and the droplets of blood are being cleaned up outside the courtyard doors.