Elizabeth McCracken on Laughing at Weddings

Editor’s Note: Read Elizabeth McCracken’s new short story, “The Irish Wedding.”

“The Irish Wedding” is taken from Elizabeth McCracken’s forthcoming collection of stories, The Souvenir Museum (available on April 13). To mark the story’s publication in The Atlantic, McCracken and Ena Alvarado, a former assistant editor of the magazine, discussed the story over email. Their conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.

Ena Alvarado: Your story, “The Irish Wedding,” takes place in rural Ireland. The setting is rich with tactile imagery. As you conceived the story, were the details of place and plot always entwined?

Elizabeth McCracken: So much of our personalities is based on context—geographical or social or architectural. So from the start I wanted everything unfamiliar to Sadie to press down upon her. The house described here is very much based on the former home of some dear friends, and having a space I could walk my characters through made a big difference: I was with them on that Vermeer floor, in that kitchen with the bathroom off of it. Physical details are one of my favorite things to read about in fiction, so I tend to put them in. Yes, of course, yearning, love, existential crises—but I always want to know about the bar of soap and the smell of dog and what kind of pants people are wearing.

Alvarado: In “The Irish Wedding,” what seems to be true is often not. Early on, Sadie learns that her boyfriend, Jack, is actually named Lenny. A dog referred to as “Shithead” is, in fact, called Seamus. Jack’s mom, Sadie is made to believe, is suffering from gout. It later turns out that she isn’t. Why are reality and first impressions at such odds in the story?

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McCracken: Isn’t that always how it is, when you meet somebody’s family? Family life is built upon such a framework of running jokes, old resentments, and personal stubbornness that it’s illegible, at least at first, to anyone new.

Alvarado: The scene most saturated with ambiguity also happens to be the funniest. Jack’s father enters the kitchen and seemingly addresses Sadie—the “lovely present that Len has brought.” The whole family joins in on the praise. In truth, it’s all a dirty quip. They are joking about the feces visibly afloat in the toilet. Tellingly, Jack never steps in to save Sadie. What does this moment reveal about their relationship?

McCracken: That’s a really interesting question—in

Source:: The Atlantic – Culture


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