Reviewed by John O'Brien, S.J.
Rarely has short-story reading provided me with such enjoyment. Mulrooney's fables are alternately tender, bizarre, whimsical and stark, but each in their own way providing a glimpse into a deeper truth about human person. The collection of fourteen stories is divided into four sections: Philosophical Fables, Pious Tales, Graceless Tales, and Family Stories. These are not bedtime fairy-tales for children, but are more like Brothers Grimm meeting Flannery O'Connor in a wayside inn. One has to think after each story to identify a "truth", since in themselves they do not moralize; but they delight and provoke.
One must first commend the author for the command of his craft. He has a poet's ear for turn of phrase and economy of composition. He is unpredictable, and each story is completely different from the one before it. There is a "holy madness" about his tale-spinning, a wild creativity that is restrained only by his attention to a writer's discipline. From this pressure comes the diamond-like sheen of his stories.
Readers will meet a flower waiting for a bee to pollinate her so that she can die (with mildly provocative innuendo that she is a flower-prostitute, but one displaying a kenotic willingness to be dispossessed); a high-achiever whose brilliance is straw in the final analysis; a narcissistic young man who in a psychedelic reverie, defecates his heart into the toilet (easily the most grotesque); the original story of how dogs and horses came to serve Man, the night a devil made his confession to a popular priest, and so on.
There is wicked satire in these pages, along with a subtle tenderness for the human condition, and not infrequently, laugh-out loud hilarity. Mulrooney is apparently writing a novel at the moment. I will be sure to read it when it comes out.
An extract from "The Devil's Confession":
By all reckoning, Fr John was a happy priest. He was not even thirty-four years old and he had his own church. The parish was reasonably well-off and stable. Unlike many of his older colleagues, he was comfortable with the casual way people took one another nowadays, so that he was not fazed when people came to church in jeans, or took God's name in vain, or when they lived together without being wed. At the same time, was able to make it lear that neither he nor the Church approved such things. He managed to be both orthodox and humorous, to hate the sin and love the sinner, so that the older parishioners looked on him as a dutiful son and the young people looked up to him as an older brother. He had been very successful in convincing people to stay and believe in the Church. Even his bishop liked him because every year he managed to raise as much money as parishes much larger than his.
But Fr John was not all happy. Drinking was not his problem -- although he recognized it could become one and was careful about it. Nor was lack of faith. In an age when so many could not even conceive of God, Fr John was blessed with a constant sure knowledge of his presence. His problem was the dreamlike quality of his life, the sense that nothing he did was important, that he was superfluous to the comfortable world around him. Everything had been so pleasant and easy that he felt as if he was missing something. He had spent a six months in a monastery where the old monks had spoken of life as the Way of the Cross: "Even as our Lord suffered for his flock, so every Christian suffers for Christ." But the Way of the Cross was not a Way Fr John was familiar with. Sometimes at night he felt the desire to find pain simply to remind himself that he was alive, and he would punch the doorframe in the rectory or bite his own shoulder as he lay in bed.
The Day Immanuel Kant was Late can be purchased at amazon.ca or amazon.com.