Selected Shorts: An Irish Ear: Colum McCann’s Favorite Stories

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The Cliffs of Moher (Co. Clare, West Ireland) rise up to 700 feet above the Atlantic Ocean.

Ultimate acts in stories selected by Colum McCann, and a sharp-edged fantasy by Molly Giles).

The novelist Colum McCann, winner of the 2009 National Book Award for Let the Great World Spin, was the guest host for an evening of story readings at Symphony Space, and we hear two of his selections on this program.

The first is Nathan Englander’s harrowing tale, “Free Fruit for Young Widows.”  Englander is the author of the highly praised collection For the Relief of Unbearable Urges and teaches in the Hunter College, CUNY MFA Writing Program (as does McCann).   SHORTS literary commentator Hannah Tinti notes, “There are so many memorable scenes in this story, but what struck me the most was near the end, when Etgar realizes that Tendler is both a murderer and a misken. Unfamiliar with the word misken, I looked it up, and the definition I found said that it is a person who is poor or unfortunate, someone to be pitied.  This reminded me of the F. Scott Fitzgerald quote, that “the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in the mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” It’s no wonder, in the end, that Etgar becomes a philosopher—he is able to see the dark and the light in Tendler—and accept them both.”

The reader is the actor and musical theatre star Michael Ceveris.

McCann’s second choice was by the Irish writer Anne Enright, best known for winning the Booker prize in 2007 with her novel, The Gathering. Tinti notes that Enright “was a student of Angela Carter’s at the University of East Anglia. Carter’s surreal, feminist influence is definitely seen here in “She Owns Everything.” What I love about this story is how Enright takes one physical object, the handbag, and uses it to develop the entire emotional world of her character. It’s also a great tribute to the handbag itself—that portable life-kit—and what choice of color, size, and design reveals about the woman (or man, these days) who carries it.”

The reader, making her SELECTED SHORTS debut, was Mary-Louise Parker, star of the television series “Weeds.”

The third story on this program, “The Writer’s Model,” is a provocative fantasy by Molly Giles.  Tinti comments: “Molly Giles is a wonderful writer, who won the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction. You can certainly see O’Connor’s influence here in “The Writer’s Model,” with the narrative bite and sharpness of the language. I found this to be a wonderfully funny piece. A great response to the mistakes male writers often make when writing about women, their inability, sometimes, to see us as three dimensional characters. There is a line at the end of this piece says it all: “I decided to quit before I became what they saw.”

The musical interludes are from “Eve’s Women” and “Kingdom,” on Israel A World of Music, producers Dan Golan, Ishay Amir. 

The SELECTED SHORTS theme is Roger Kellaway’s “Come to the Meadow.”

Free Fruit for Young Widows,” by Nathan Englander, performed by Michael Cerveris

“(She Owns) Every Thing,” by Anne Enright, performed by Mary-Louise Parker 

“The Writers’ Model,” by Molly Giles, performed by Blair Brown


For additional works featured on SELECTED SHORTS, please visit

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And for more thoughts on the stories in SHORTS, check out literary commentator Hannah Tinti’s site at

(This program first aired during our 2010 season.)