Roddy Doyle, "Ash"
Roddy Doyle’s “Ash” (TNY, May 24, 2010) is one of those stories that make you wonder how they got to The New Yorker. It’s tiny, mostly dialogue. Kevin has two daughters with Ciara, and Ciara is leaving him. She leaves him once, comes back and “rides” Kevin, and then leaves again. Kevin is worried, and is constantly counseled by his brother Micky. Ciara returns once more, and there is no riding this time. The television shows that the volcano eruption in Iceland has paralyzed airports. Perhaps this was why Ciara didn’t leave for good. One of the girls asks a provocative question: “What’s ash?” Kevin gropes for an answer. Then he says the ash will drift away or fall and things will get back to normal. The girl asks if the falling ash will hurt. Ciara answers: “No, said Ciara. It won’t.”
The ending is the best part of the story. Even though “Ash” is brief, I think it could be reduced to the ending itself, starting when someone says “Amazing.” Add a hint of backstory, and you have the most poignant part of the tale compressed into a few paragraphs. It would make a convincing short short story.
Aside from that, it’s tough to speak up for “Ash.” The last line could spark some discussion. I read it as Ciara’s way to tell the girls that her departure wouldn’t hurt them. Of course it would, but Ciara is trying to convince herself that it won’t, in order to spare herself the guilt. Finally, a matter of punctuation is noteworthy: I enjoyed seeing the em dashes used for dialogue, the Joycean way.