This week’s story, “A Shooting in Rathreedane,” is about a firearm incident in rural Ireland and the officer in Ireland’s police force, the Garda, who responds to the call. Was Sergeant Noonan part of the story from the outset?
The story always started with the character of Noonan, a provincial police officer sitting at her desk absorbed in her paperwork. She was an atypical character for me to write. A middle-aged, mid-career professional, pragmatic and essentially content in her job and her life. Which all gets blown up a little over the course of the story.
I did like that she was a cop. As literary devices, cops are fairly useful. Their profession gives them inherent agency. Something bad happens and they go toward it, no further reason necessary other than that they are cops. Another thing that makes them literarily useful is that, like a criminal, a cop is at heart an outsider. No matter how embedded they are within a community, no matter how acutely they understand the customs and mores and psychological temperament of that community, indeed, even if they originally come from that community, as Noonan does, their cophood renders them ultimately apart. Suspect, even. They are like criminals in that regard. And it cuts both ways, I think. People can’t completely trust cops, and cops can’t completely trust people. So I wanted to try and catch something of that dynamic, that irrevocable third-rail animosity at the heart of the relationship between even the most ostensibly conscientious cop and the community she is deputed to manage.
Do you think of this as a police procedural at all? Did you have to do much research into the Garda—or the guards, as they’re commonly known—to write the story?
I was on a weekend stag—a multiday bachelor party—several years ago, and one of the people there was a guard, a little bit notorious in his family for, allegedly, summarily euthanizing a sick family pet without the parents’ say-so, though they’d all forgiven him by this stage. A few pints in, he got to talking a bit about the job. Like everything else at that time in the country, even the cops were being subjected to austerity logic. There were regular shutdowns of rural stations and cutbacks in resources, ostensibly in the name of institutional efficiency. And what really vexed the lad was how increasingly large a rural area he and his colleagues were now left to cover. Fewer personnel responsible for more square mileage of territory, which meant it could take them forever to get to certain locations, bad news if people needed help quickly. Something of that notion stuck with me—of how staggered and eerily piecemeal an emergency might play out in the remoteness of the countryside, as opposed to a large city.
Anyway, that chat on the stag with the lad who allegedly shot the family dog was the extent of my research into what the police do, I’m afraid.
The Garda is a largely unarmed force. Noonan could call in a Special Response Unit, but she thinks she can handle this. Would this have been a different story if you’d decided to send the armed unit in first?
I was interested in exploring the aftermath of the violence, not in its protraction. And I thought it said something about Noonan, her confidence in herself and in how well she thinks she knows her world, that she could make that call. Though she doesn’t know the perpetrator of the shooting, Bertie Creedon, she wagers she knows his type—and can handle him.
The shooting victim is a young man Noonan recognizes, Dylan Judge, who’s been in trouble before. She does her best to keep him conscious and talking, but his chances of survival are slim. He’s not a talented criminal—as seen in his attempt to siphon gas out of an almost empty tank. Is this comic or tragic?
I suppose I wanted the tones the story goes through, whatever the reader may judge those tones to be, to follow the trajectory of emotions that the unfolding fate of Judge elicits, almost moment by moment, in Noonan.
So far as Noonan is concerned, Judge is a small-time criminal and basically a waster, and so there’s no getting around that she sees his potential fate as a self-inflicted joke, at least at the outset. Out of what she’s willing to write off, almost metaphysically, as the lad’s purblind criminality, he’s made himself his own punch line. Which doesn’t mean his fate won’t, eventually, get to her.
The story closes with Noonan starting to write her report. Is this an act of storytelling, in effect? Does she have to assess who she thinks is telling the truth, or take down what happened and leave that judgment to someone else? Why did you want to finish on those abbreviated notes that she scribbled down in the first phone call?
An early reader of the story mentioned that they were a little wrong-footed by the way I ended up depicting the scene toward the end of the story where Noonan and Swift go to meet Judge’s girlfriend, Mullally, to tell her what has happened. That reader had anticipated a more dramatic, climactic scene than the brief, somewhat flat, impersonally voiced summary you get instead.
Again, I suppose all I was trying to capture in these final phases of the story was where Noonan is by this stage of the day—drained, tired, a little traumatized, ready to lash out at anyone who looks at her sideways, as the random teen-age kid who crosses the road in front of her car does. There’s been, by the standards of the community, a rare and uncharacteristically violent near-tragedy, one bound to become at least temporarily notorious, but she still has the paperwork to do.
“A Shooting in Rathreedane” will appear in your second collection of stories, “Homesickness,” which comes out next year. Many of the stories in your first collection, “Young Skins,” and in “Homesickness” are, like “A Shooting,” set in County Mayo. You’ve spent the past few years in Toronto. Do you see Mayo in the same way from the other side of the Atlantic? Has Toronto challenged it as a setting?