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Likely Stories: Good Trouble by Joseph O’Neill


A collection of short stories which examine the difficulties faced by ordinary people.

I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and biographies.


Joseph O’Neill has put together a slim collection of short stories which can easily occupy an afternoon or two.  He won the PEN/Faulkner award for fiction in 2009.  He was born in Ireland of Irish/Turkish ancestry.  He preferred English, because, as he wrote "literature was too precious" and he wanted it to remain a hobby.  He began writing poetry, and Good Trouble is his fifth book. 

In “Pardon Edward Snowden,” he shares some cogent observations.  He receives a poem from a fellow poet, Jarvis, which he shares with his friend, Liz.  “She wrote back: ‘So great that you’re writing again!  This is good—best thing you.ve done in a while.  So effortless “Physics” and “fizz” is a pleasure.  And don’t think I haven’t noticed that the English-language contractions erase “I” and “u.”  In a poem drowning in materialism, that’s just such a smart, playful way to raise the issue of subjectivity.’ // Mark did not get back to Liz.  Or to Jarvis. // Re the Dylan Nobel, Liz said, ‘It’s depressing.  I can’t separate it from the Trump phenomenon.’ // The election was a week away. // ‘Yes,” Mark said.  ‘And hypercapitalism, too.  The reader as consumer.  It’s an interesting question.’ // He kept secret, even from Liz, the fact that he’d already written on this question” (9).  This passage encapsulates this story.

In “The World of Cheese,” O’Neill wrote, “It had never occurred to Breda Morrissey that things might go seriously wrong between herself and her son, Patrick.  But back in the fall he had declared her ‘persona non grata’—his actual expression—and pronounced that she was no longer permitted to have contact with her grandson, Joshua, on the grounds that she would be ‘an evil influence.’  It was a crazy, almost unbelievable turn of events, and all about such a strange matter—a scrap of skin” (31). 

“The Death of Billy Joel” has a somewhat disturbing title.  O’Neill writes, “For his fortieth birthday Tom Rourk organizes a golf trip to Florida.  He e-mails (sic) a total of ten men, but only three say yes.  A few, including some of his oldest and, historically and theoretically, best friends, do not even summon the energy to reply.  Two of the three who agree to join him, Aaron and Mick, are his regular golfing partners in New York and friends of only a few years’ vintage.  Only the final member of the quartet, David was at college with Tom back in the eighties.  David now lives in Chicago.  Tom hasn’t seen David in a long time, and hanging out with him is one of the things he’s most looking forward to” (68).  Another teaser, as to whether this will be fun outing or a disaster.

Lastly, we have “Goose.”  “In late September, Robert Daly flies New York-Milan.  He travels alone: his wife, Martha, six months pregnant with their first child, is holed up at her mother’s place upstate, in Columbia County.  Robert is going to the wedding of Mark Walters, a Dartmouth roommate who for years has lived in London and is marrying an English girl with a thrilling name—Electra.  Electra’s mother is Italian, hence the Italian wedding.  […]  Italy, New York friends tell him, is the most beautiful country in the world” (118). 

Bravo if you can figure out the connection of these and the other seven stories.  Good Trouble by Joseph O’Neill is a story which will have you puzzled through to the end.  5 Stars

Likely Stories is a production of KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and happy reading!

Life-long voracious reader, Jim McKeown, is an English Instructor at McLennan Community College. His "Likely Stories" book review can be heard every Thursday on KWBU-FM! Reviews include fiction, biographies, poetry and non-fiction. Join us for Likely Stories every Thursday featured during Morning Edition and All Things Considered with encore airings Saturday and Sunday during Weekend Edition.