Fat Books & Thin Women

Story Sundays: Roddy Doyle’s “Ash”

Story Sundays is a weekly feature at Fat Books & Thin Women. Each Sunday I write about a short story available online. If you read the story, add your thoughts in the comments.

It was just St. Patty’s Day. I am one for making obvious statements and obvious posts, so today I’m saying things like – well, the first sentence of this post – and linking up to Roddy Doyle’s story “Ash”. Why? Because Roddy Doyle is an Irish writer, of course, but also because he writes stunning and always true dialogue and lands in this happy place between literary and commercial fiction, or maybe doesn’t land between them but manages to bring the two together.

“Ash” is about Nick, whose wife Ciara has just told him she’s leaving him. He’s trying to figure things out, like what it means that she comes over at night a couple times, and what to say to their two daughters about their mother’s absence, and seeks advice from his brother.

My only bone with the story (and I mention it only because I hope that one of my younger and hipper readers, not as averse to using cellphones or having friends as I am, will be able to illuminate something for me) comes in the text messages Nick exchanges with his brother. Doyle’s dialogue is always spot-on, but these texts seemed labored and awkward – like, I get that people get lazy when texting, but the letters Nick and Mickey leave out seem utterly random, and there’s more abbreviation than I think anyone actually uses. (Except a 13-year-old girl in New Jersey?) Like, “Hav u foned hr?” Or when his brother texts him with some plans: “Jcksns, snday” which translates to “Jacksons, Sunday.” But why leave out the “u”? When you’re texting, wouldn’t you type “sun” instead of “snday”? And when has “hr” become an abbreviation for “her” rather than “hour”? Do people really shorten three-letter words to become two-letter words? Do people in Ireland abbreviate differently than people in America? Do Irish cell phone companies charge for each and every character, necessitating awkward abbreviations of restaurant names? Is it an age thing? Or do the phones of Roddy Doyle’s characters not have T9, making it both possible and easy (I am trying to imagine a world in which typing “Jcksns” takes less brain power than typing “Jacksons,” really I am) to write messages like Nick and Mickey do?

I didn’t mean to write so much about that. Pretend that the bulk of this post isn’t about T9, go read the story, then tell me if Doyle doesn’t write some great dialogue and some subpar text messages.

Read “Ash”

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LOL Ellen. I sometimes read and post on New Yorker stories too, but I haven’t read this one yet. I love your discussion of sms language. Must say I had to look up T9 though I guessed what it probably was, and sure enough it’s what we simply call predictive text. I think in fact some predictive text has the shortcuts there too, or you can add them can’t you?

Anyhow, all this is to say that I tend to spell things out in full – no “c u ltr” for me. Oh, and that you’ve intrigued me about the story!

Comment by whisperinggums

I spell things in full too, which is why I’m wondering if it’s me who’s tone deaf about the texts in this story, or doyle. it seems like too much effort (also it looks too stupid) to use tween-style abbreviations when texting, and I’m pretty sure that whatever “shorteners” I use when texting are the same ones I use when speaking or emailing – like writing “what you doing” instead of “what’re you doing?”

Comment by Ellen Rhudy

The texting is very weird.. I don’t know anyone who’d abbreviate like that. I did enjoy the story, though.

Comment by Bex

I cannot stand writing text messages. It takes forever for me. But I do intend to try Doyle some day…

Comment by rebeccareid

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