- 12 Apr 21
Artist At Work
While Duncan’s arrangement, in a 1-4-4-2 soccer formation, of the stories in this first collection of short fiction after two well-received novels - Love Notes From A German Building Site and A Sabbatical In Leipzig - goes sadly over my sport-o-phobe head, the imagination and skill evident in opener/'keeper' ‘Design No. 108’ is like an away goal for the local team, or whatever the correct analogy might be. Various scenarios, each more fantastical than the last, involving himself and the brother and their house that is "pure bungalow bliss, straight from the book, Design No. 108" tumble out of Duncan's psyche on to the page until the brother bangs his head, loses his sense of smell and disconnects from the world, and the writer succeeds in making us envy him for doing so.
The other stories have plenty of left turns too. What Finn does in ‘Houses By The Sea’ might on the one hand be shocking and strange, but, on the other, he might just be attempting a mercy killing. What is going on with the construction of ‘Two Towers In The Forest’? Are they an offering to the draughtsman's mother, or an urge to create that cannot be ignored? What is the connection between the ‘Two Silences’? How is the fallen shelter in the forest relevant to a tinnitus-beset former sound engineer who dreams of oil rigs? I don't know, but Duncan weaves it in a beguiling way.
Oddball Lee - he eats flowers and looks for old British towers - drove Margaret away because she was worried about his dreams clawing their way into the real world. As you do, he offers her an ‘Oregon Grape Tree’ when he runs into her but, unsurprisingly, she doesn't want it. His worrying conclusion is that his dreams are perfectly acceptable, he just needs to find someone who can put up with them. There's squirrel hunting in the Ukraine, there's a concrete man in the Emirates, there's a lot of building going on, all over the place. The book is akin to a painting of a world we recognise, but it's ever so slightly crooked in its hanging.
I've perhaps made it sound a bit like Duncan's stories are easier to admire than to like, but alongside the technical skill, there's a lovely humanity to the mourning in 'Trusses', and to the father giving jiving lessons and driving the kids for chips in 'Midfield Dynamo'. To top it all, the slow motion descriptions of the beautiful game in 'Prosinečki' have a kind of poetry that very nearly converted me.
Vincent, in 'About The Weight Of A Bucket of Salt' is a bit of an arsehole but when he wanders into a gallery and is "drawn in by the centrifugal quietness of this small island of metal and sodium" he at least has the wherewithal to admit the truth; "His mediocrity as an artist became apparent to him." Midfield Dynamo proves beyond any doubt that the exact opposite is true of Adrian Duncan; there's a real artist at work here. Unlike that woman scared of an electrical fire in the old Ireland, you won't be wanting to give these light bulbs back.