Psychotic Episodes by Alan Mc Monagle

After I had finished The Herbalist, big, long book that it is, I was dying to get stuck into a short story collection again! Alan Mc Monagle’s new short story collection Psychotic Episodes came to the rescue.

I had heard loads of great things about this collection and writer, first on the women write rule blog where Nuala interviewed Alan.


Alan loves the short story form so therefore he will always be dear to my heart.

This collection is varied in length, some of the stories are ultra short like Bloomsday Bus Driver or The mega-million lottery and some longer like Walking along ruins in Babylon

Incidentally, my favourite ones were the more longer ones like Walking along ruins in Babylon. This story unravels late in the night with a phone call intruding into a husband and wife’s bed and sleep. I loved the way this story unfolds itself and adds more and more information for the reader in abrupt stages. I was easily led into the narrator’s world and his wife, senile mother in law and distant son. It ends with a sudden realisation, like many of Alan’s stories seem to end, for the character and a move to some sort of shift in the main character’s world.

This collection is all about the odd things that happen in our world. How people can be disconnected from what is normal. How the strange events can show what a character has been through or where he is heading. Strange things happen in all the stories and it is the character’s reaction to them that show and enlighten their meaning.

For example, in the hilarious story of Thai Food. A young man meets his father who he hasn’t spoken to in years. The father suggests his favourite Thai restaurant and off they go. The lack of any relationship between the two is magnified in the father’s obsession with the restaurant, his strange behavior in the restaurant and the even stranger “psychotic episode” that goes on in the middle of their meal. The father is not aware of reality and in denial about his ex-wife and his own life to the point that he doesn’t seem to mind the strange events in the restaurant. The crazy scene in the Thai restaurant is set up to show what the father’s character is about. For he simply 

glances…at the unfolding commotion, takes a long drink and chuckles to himself.

With a few lines, we understand the whole, overused “Show, don’t tell” maxim of millions of writer advice books!

But, Alan does tender as well as fast and wacky. In Beside Titan’s Sea, the story opens gently and directly.

When his parents were quarreling and he was afraid to be around them, Bernard went to his room…

Bernard is a young boy who is living with parents who hate each other. I had started to wait for the crazy episode to appear and when it does, it’s too late for the reader to realise that the boy is in fact part of the crazy episode. Has he been made this way or has he made his parents this way?

In another favourite on mine from this collection, the striking Bleeding Boy creates some amazing images, right at the end. A sort of Mrs Robinson story where young lads hanker after a bit of fine stuff in the form of Mrs Cassidy, a lady who lives on their street. The narrator is mourning from his mother’s death. A wonderfully poignant paragraph about a series of check lists and post it notes give us a way into the narrator’s character when he tells us about his Mum and what she had wanted to do.

Her big list was a list of places she wanted to see before she died…She wrote it all down..I kept her list…I thought that some day I’d get to…these places…then, I could cross them off.

After the ending, I wondered about this boy and if he ever gets to cross them off for his mum’s memory. However, the ending implies that the event that happens will remain in his memory for a long time, shaping who he is and when he became a grown up. He wants to be her bleeding boy.

Alan writes interesting and well layered endings. They seem to end abruptly and I needed to stop, go back and make sense of some of them but they all lead to the same type of conclusion that mad things happen to people and some people will realise this and some will not. An epiphany may or may not happen for the characters in Alan’s stories.

I can totally recommend this collection for anyone who enjoys short stories and humour and wit. I find it interesting that so many of these stories are all taken from various awards, competitions or journals that he has been published in. We have much to learn and enjoy in these psychotic stories. Thought, some are not as crazy as the title of the collection suggests. Or does that say something about the reader?!

Thanks to Arlen House and Alan for allowing me the time to read and absorb this collection.

Alan McMonagle is a poet, playwright and short fiction writer living in Galway, Ireland. He holds an MA in Writing from National University of Ireland, Galway.
He has contributed stories to many journals in Ireland and North America. Liar Liar, his first collection of stories published by Wordsonthestreet appeared in 2008 and was long-listed for the 2009 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. The title story from his second collection, Psychotic Episodes, (due from Arlen House in April 2013) was nominated for a 2011 Pushcart Prize



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