Source: Everything in This Country Must, a novella and two stories (Colum McCann, 2004)
Date read: 2006? Reread 2/19/09 (#4)
Briefly: In Northern Ireland, English soldiers save a farmer's drowning horse
First Sentence: A summer flood came and our draft horse got caught in the river.
Afterthoughts: This is a library book. I read it two years ago and it has sat next to my bedside table through renewal after renewal. I could not return it. If it went back to the library, I'd forget I'd read it, and I couldn't bear to think of that. (This is why I started writing book reviews).
The story is told from the point of view of the farmer's daughter, a mentally simple fifteen-year-old. An amazing voice. Heartbreaking and so real that you want to take the girl home with you. There's very little dialogue, but it would make no sense with more: these people don't talk to each other. If they did, it would be a different story.
On my first reading, I'd been immersed in Northern Irish literature and history, so the setting and all its undertones were already engrained in my mind. This time, it took a page or two to recover the context--and that context is crucial. The farmer's reaction to the soldiers is so poignant--his anger is palpable. He'd rather see his favorite horse dead than to accept their help. This might seem insane, or at least confusing, without an understanding of the meaning of the English soldiers. But it's Northern Ireland that's gone mad in the story, not the farmer.
Notable quotes: The collection takes its title from this passage, in which the soldiers (Stevie and Hayknife) are in the river trying to free the horse's stuck hoof: Stevie took four big gulps of air and Hayknife was pulling on the halter rope and the draft horse was screaming like I never heard a horse before or after. Father was quiet and I wanted to be back in the barn alone waiting for drips on my tongue. I was wearing Stevie's jacket but I was shivering and wet and cold and scared because Stevie and the draft horse were going to die since everything in this country must.