By —Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books
Danielle McLaughlin’s short story collection Dinosaurs on Other Planets is a near perfect, enormously promising debut. Most of the stories take place in the author’s home country of Ireland, in the shadow of the global financial crisis of 2007-2008. McLaughlin enjoys playing with the contrast between rural Ireland’s fantastical natural beauty and the often unpleasant realities of day-to-day living. She specializes in the quiet accumulation of dread, frequently building to moments of gothic intensity.
In “A Different Country,” the protagonist is forced to come to terms with how little she understands her new boyfriend. Moments of seeming insensitivity and small interpersonal mysteries contribute to a rising sense of anxiety that McLaughlin manages carefully, driving the reader toward a climax that is simultaneously horrifying and believable. Quite a few of the stories deal with the experience of or proximity to slowly fracturing sanity. “In the Act of Falling” and “Along the Heron-Studded River” feature a husband and a wife, respectively, struggling to hold on to their loved ones as they fade further and further away from reality.
McLaughlin’s subject matter and themes are serious, undercut brilliantly by a sly strain of pitch-black humor. In “Silhouette,” for example, McLaughlin writes: “Her mother’s problems, being terminal, were far beyond the reach of podiatry, but, still, she debated the subject of calluses with an intensity that was unsettling.” Dinosaurs on Other Planets is reminiscent of “The Yellow Wallpaper” in how it depicts madness and despair emerging all too naturally from the mundane.
Discover: A brilliant, quietly disturbing debut story collection portrays Irish characters in the uncertain wake of the recent financial crisis.