Michael Collins


Life
1964- ; b. Limerick; competitive long-distance runner in youth; dropped out of school before Leaving Cert.; moved to America and worked casually; recommenced training in New York; attended Notre Dame on sports scholarship; studied creative writing; completed a PhD at Illinois Univ.; travelled in America with other runners, living on prizes; teaches at Notre Dame Univ., and married;
 
issued The Meat Eaters (1992), stories, named Notable Book of the Year by the New York Times in 1993, his story ‘The End of the World’ being awarded the Pushcart Prize for Best American Short Story; also a first novel, The Life and Times of a Teaboy (1994), family life and descent into madness in Limerick; The Feminists Go Swimming (1996), panned by Hugo Hamilton; issued The Emerald Underground (1998), concerning Irish ‘illegals’ alone in New York in the 1980s;
 
has contrib. to QC; also a debut play, The Hackney Coach (Druid 2000), dir. Gary Hynes; The Keepers of Truth (Feb. 2000), novel of small-town America in the 1980s, centred on the murder of old man Lawton and the suspicions that settle on his son; shortlisted for Booker; The Resurrectionists (2001), set in frozen north America; settled in Seattle; issued Lost Souls (2003); lived in an new apartment block at Hamilton St., nr. St. Catherine’s, Dublin; now lives in Indiana. OCIL

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Works
The Meat Eaters (London: Jonathan Cape 1992; Phoenix House 1993), 279/288pp.; The Life and Times of a Teaboy (London: Phoenix House 1994; rep. 1995), 242pp.; The Feminists Go Swimming (London: Orion/Phoenix House 1996), 200pp.; The Emerald Underground (London: Phoenix House 1998), 256pp.; The Keepers of Truth (London: Phoenix House 2000), 297pp.; The Resurrectionists (London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson 2001; Phoenix House 2002), 360pp.; Lost Souls (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson 2003), 384pp.

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Criticism
Interview in Books Ireland, Sept. 1998, pp.195-96.

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Commentary
Jonathan Dyson, review of Life and Times of a Teaboy, in Times Literary Supplement, 8 July 1994, writing that ’the schizophrenia of Ambrose Feeney, not surprisingly, is also that of his country [in the 1960s], torn between the heritage of British imperialism and the search for an indigenous culture, permanently at war with itself; at fifteen, takes job in hotel, where his uniform makes him look like ‘an English admiral’; job in Irish civil service repeats patter; reviewer criticises patness of madness metaphor, comparing it to similar failing in earlier Meat-Eaters (1992)’.

C. L. Dallat, ‘Modern Ireland’, review of The Feminists Go Swimming, in TLS (9 Feb., p.24); ‘Michael Collins’s collection catches the confusion of a still submerged population of hill-farms and tower-blacks facing the ills of the contemporary society while burdened with stifling traditions’; cites ‘The end of the World’, set at a period when the Pope is due to open secrets of Fatima, while a butt of abuse, Patsy, is punished for irreverence when he draws Jesus as Superman; ‘The Sunday Races’ concerns blackmail; an outsider returns for a funeral in ‘The Inheritance’; ‘In Hiding’ is set in wartime London and testifies to barbarism arising from lack of familial support; ‘The Walking Saint’ involves a gas employee who secures near canonisation for his aunt, an ageing nun; ‘’The Football Field’ is a story of urban deprivation; in ‘The Rain in Kilrush’ a violent husband goes too far; title story based on true incident, featuring robust priest, retired sergeant, and anti-clerical businessman, who congregate for bathing and are join by two young men who ‘don’t know any girls’ and are view with suspicion; the prevailing instinct is to avoid scandal as upsetting the Catholic status quo (a theme approved by Dallat).

Hugo Hamilton review of The Feminists Go Swimming (Phoenix 1995), in Irish Times, 17 Feb., 1996, p.9: ‘[Collins writes with compelling inaccuracy about this country ... like an Ed Wood remake of Ryan’s Daughter’); gives a different account of the title-piece, in which women arrive at the Sandycove forty-foot and two of the male swimmers drown, leading the priest and others to beg to women to allow them of the water; in ‘The Fornicator’, Murphy departs from home for an affair and ends up murdering a raving farmer with his girlfriend; ‘The End of the World’ concerns the Church of Ireland and the Church of Rome, with a suspicion on the reviewer’s part that the author doesn’t know the difference; berates Phoenix, who publish Colm McCann, for their apparent ignorance of Ireland.

David Ervine, review of The Emerald Underground (1998), in Times Literary Supplement (27 Nov., 1998, p.22: quotes, ‘that dark Emerald underground of Irish immigrant slvery in the margin of the American mainstream’; ‘new York was a great machine that ingested and digested matter’; Liam recalls, “I saw Jesus on the cross, and said, ‘morning, bollocks!’ How’re those nails in your hands and feet?” I said, “Hail the King of all Cat Killers!”; the will to survive takes precedence over religion or morality; Liam’s persistence “was part of the evolutionary process of survival, the mould on cheese and bread growing in the cold of the cupboardd back home, the microbes that live in the arse of animals, the cancer cells tthatfed inside my mother. Ask them the meaning of life. Survival!”; characters include Liam; Angel, a pregnant 16 year-old prostitute and her drug-addict boyfriend Sandy; all three leave New York; Liam resumes running; reviewer remarks, ‘Collins is undoubtedly an exciting talent, capable of writing razor-sharp prose … gripping, stylish novel [...] not a book for the faint-hearted.’

John Kenny, review of Emerald Underground [with Hugo Hamiton, Sad Bastard], in The Irish Times, 3 Oct. 1998: notes metamorphosis via rash: “My new skin had a hard roughness, more scar than skin, the armour of prehistoric survival”; sells “clean piss” and works in abbatoir; sets of for Pennsylvania with 16-year old prostitute Angel and her pimp Sandy; trailer park sequence; five mile race serves as climactic scene after he revives his athletic skills; ‘the best attempt yet in Irish fiction to deal with the sub-species of Irish illegals in the Eighties [...] considerably damaged by the aggressive hipness of the sordidness [and] imprecations’; notes frequency of word “shite”.

John Kenny, review of Michael Collins, The Resurrectionists (London: Phoenix House), 360pp.: The Keepers of Truth was shortlisted for Booker and IMPAC prizes; the novel concerns twenty-something narrator Frank who returns to Michigan to investigate death of stepfather-uncle and revisit the scenes of a traumatic childhood. Kenny questions the authenticity of the American world recreated from the 1950s to the 1970s: ‘The inconsistencies in the narrator’s characterisation are distracting, even if these are meant to reflect his damaged psyche; but some of Collins’s secondary characters more consistently abet his primarily emphasis on full-blooded story development’; ‘Despite headlong inattention to self-editing, Collins is commendably pursuing here something still rare in Irish fiction: a diversified, idiosyncratic, sequential plot.’ Kenny speaks at the outset of Collins as an author who writes ‘on the run’, a not-dismissive reference to his admission that he makes up his plots to stave off boredom while long-distance running. Notes also that Emerald Underground was written in two to three months. (Irish Times, 13 April, Weekend, p.10.)

John Kenny, reviewoing of Michael Collins, The Keepers of Truth (Phoenix House), 297pp., summarises a plot in which a father in a mid-west American town comes to suspect that his steroid-popping son murdered and dismembered his victim, and remarks: ‘This kind of literary crime/thriller framework has been widely employed by Irish male authors in recent years, usually to moribund effect. […] there has been insufficient acknowledgement of the fact that this subgenre, withits established plot elements, is inherently formulaic and requires considerable stylistic dexterity and formal nuance’; remarks that Collins’s ‘brand of macho, streetwise and often vicious prose … nascent in The Meat Eaters (1992) and significantly, though imperfectly, developed in his last novel, The Emerald Underground (1998) here achieves a new tautness which helps maintain a frenetic pace and a genuine suspense’, and concludes: ‘Michael Collins has bridled the voice of the malcontent and has produced something that is rare enough in contemporary Irish fiction: a well-written and scoially conscientious novel.’ (Times Literary Supplement, 5 Feb. 2000.)

Eve Patten, reviewing The Keepers of Truth (Phoenix), in The Irish Times [Weekend] (26 Feb. 2000), compares the new novel with its predecessor (Emerald Underground): ‘That novel’s success lay partly in its narrative voice - a breezy, Irish-American vernacu!ar which pulled the reader along at a cracking pace - so the very different style adopted in The Keepers Truth is surprising. Gone is the quick-fire colloquialism, and in its place comes a slow, lugubrious prose, weighted with dark imagery and building into an intense and moody thriller’, and remarks: ‘[G]enerally the balance between story and social diagnosis is well mastered. Collins is a clever writer, but not an alienating one. His style is appropriately allusive; the de rigueur Chandlerese (“It was one of those storms that lets men breathe easy …”) combines with a gesture to Steinbeck and perhaps a hint of Annie Proulx to lay the right foundations for his own distinctive voice, which comes through in some terrific writing, particularly the superb setpieces [sic] on the torpor of the, American Rust-Belt. Thoroughly edgy, thoroughly enjoyable, The Keepers of Truth is an impressive performance from a rich and unpredictable talent. [...; for fuller version, see infra.]’

Belinda McKeon, paperback notice, in The Irish Times ([18] Oct 2004): ‘Collins’s portrait of a man, and a society, uncertain whether morals count for anything at all is, masterful, but his novel strains under the-demands of thecrime thriller genre; too many threads remain trailing, too many questions unanswered, by its close.’ [See summary, in Notes, infra.]

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Quotations
The Keepers of Truth (2000): ‘We have made nothing of this town in over a decade. It’s as though a plague befell out men, as horrible as any of the plagues that fell on Egypt. Our men use to manufacture cars, sheet metal, mobile homes, washers and dryers, frame doors, steel girders for bridges and skyscrapers. Our town had contracts from Sears and Fod and General Motors. Everybody worked in the factories, bending metal into the shape of car fenders, gaskets, engine blocks, distributor caps, sewing vinyl seats for Cadillacs and Continentals. We had hands throbbing to make things. Factories were our cathedrals, pushed up out of the Great Plains. [1] Ronny Lawton’s estranged wife was beautiful in a trashy way, dirty blonde hair tied back in a ponytail. She was the sort of vision most men dream of rescuing, what’s referred to as a diamond in the rough. She was squatting by a small plastic pool beside the trailer. A small kid was splashing about. She reached in for her gkid, Ronny Lawton’s kid, tha tis. She had her back to me, the tight denim shoorts riding the crak of her aqs, showing the crease of each crescent cheek. I hesitated and just stared at her. She seemed to hold that pose for just a second too long to make me understand her own self-awareness. She turned, put the kind on her hip, curled her hair behind her ear and said, “You got the beer with you .. What’s your name again?” […/] She wore a red gignham shirt tied above her waist, showing the soft distended nub of her belly button like the tie on a balloon. Her skin was brown from the days oin the sun out here. [96]

On the election of Donald Trump

It’s not xenophobic to want to renegotiate injurious trade deals, to care about your country! It’s not xenophobic to talk about border security, to identify a subclass of illegal immigration that has gone unchecked and undermined working class jobs for decades!  It’s not xenophobic to speak openly of an Islamic-inspired revolution that actively wants to destroy the West!
 Of course, the above issues cannot be discussed openly in America’s so-called “liberal media” where political correctness has gone awry, where freedom of speech has been undermined by a hyper-sensitive political correctness that disallows any discourse on the aforementioned issues of immigration, religious war and trade deals.
 In this subversive political correctness, “openness” is defined by celebrating diversity which ultimately allows minority influences to control the national dialogue.
 The Trump movement operated outside the legitimized, sanctioned narrative. It is a triumph of a populist revolution that ultimately organized without the apparatus of the political machines of both the Democratic and Republican Parties and proved that the underlying voice and national sentiment of over half the people in the country galvanized around a leader who had the brashness and financial resources to work outside the system.
 This is why I live in America – Its descendants celebrate and cherish freedom. They hold certain inalienable rights, constitutionally guaranteed freedoms, for example the right to bear arms. From an outsider’s perspective, or from a politically correct posture, this might seem extreme, but for the majority of the South and up through the Rust Belt states, there’s a suspicion of government, and the struggle to wrest guns from ordinary citizens has galvanized in a movement that has quietly assembled in a meeting of the hearts that registered resoundingly at the ballot box.

This is not a movement of hate – it is the beginning of an articulation of a subverted voice that seeks to enter the national dialogue, that seeks to energize America, not at the expense of others, but through the “Art of the Deal!”
 I took on this struggle in my Booker-shortlisted novel, The Keepers of Truth,which begins with the lines:

 I call this one “Ode to a Trainee Manager.”
 When you enter this town of ours, I would want you to read the following, to enlighten you as to how it is here with us at this time in history. It seems only right. Even in medieval times they used to put up signs that said, “Plague! Keep out!”
 This is what I’d say ....

 No New York publisher wanted to hear this “Ode to America”. The book went unpublished until it found an audience in Europe. This eulogy to the Rust Belt was disallowed, but, in the collapse of the Blue firewall of the Midwest, the truth is self-evident!

The Irish Times (10 Nov. 2016) - available online.

 

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Notes
Lost Souls (2003): Lawrence, a policeman, discovers the body of a small girl is discovered by a roadside in small town America, and is dismissed officially as hit and run; but Lawrence is driven to find out the truth involving an unseen mother, a mayor, a football star and a violent father, and comes up against his own sense of loss and sorrow in the process.

Publisher’s note calls The Life and Times of a Teaboy (1994) a novel set in Limerick; family life and descent into madness; Ambrose Feeney, by his own account ‘certifiably committed’, sees his hopes dashed by others’ influence and his own inertia; starkly sane portrait of family life without mist of legend.

The Hackney Coach (Druid 2000), dir. Gary Hynes, concerns two likely lads, owner Christy Quinn (played by Brian F. O’Byrne) and ’driver’ Jude (Andrew Lovern) who set up a non-functioning taxi company into which the sinister intruder Danny (Sean McGinley ) intrudes. (See Irish Emigrant Arts Review, Dec. 2000.)

Pseud.? Anna Dillon [pseud. of Michael Collins], Another Season (Dublin: Poolbeg Press 2003), 502pp., listed in Books Ireland (Sept. 2003), p.214.

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