“St. Patrick’s Day” has won the Notre Dame Review Book Prize.
Page Turner / Edited by Peter McDermott
“St. Patrick’s Day, another day in Dublin,” said one of Ireland’s leading poets, “gives the ‘Irish Novel’ a long outstanding and much-deserved kick up the arse into the 21st century. I praise the work mightily.”
At least – as Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill doesn’t write in English – that’s the translation. And she further offered in the Irish language: “This is first-rate prose. From the evidence of both this book and his previously published novel ‘The Corpse Dream of N. Petkov,’ we realize we are in the presence of a great novelist in Thomas McGonigle. He puts a certain period of Dublin literary history before our eyes with freshness and honesty.”
Julian Rios, author of “The House of Ulysses,” said: “A retrospective portrait of a young Irish American in Dublin, ‘St. Patrick’s Day’ combines the acute vision of the best fictional memoirs from both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.
Rios added that “Thomas McGonigle ranges with the lone rangers, the unique writers.”
Novelist James McCourt likens him to the “shadow figure who winkles out the secrets that lie in the dark hearts of men.”
When asked, why another day in Dublin?, McGonigle said: “Joyce had his day in June, James McCourt had the Fourth of July and a painter friend had Christmas, so I thought: that green tie for St Patrick’s Day at St Francis de Sales School in Patchogue – but no day off since it was not in the New York Archdiocese – my only connection to Ireland growing up.”
And Dublin, because he’s not much of a fan of the countryside “where pints don’t grow on trees.”
McGonigle continued: “So Dublin was fine enough for me and probably only Dublin exists for me. Why would I want to see where the grandparents were born in Malin, since they were thrown out of Ireland like so much rubbish when they were 12 and sent to the U.S. to work as house servants of some sort. None of their children finished high school – that was not much valued.
“Such was the world of the Irish in Brooklyn where they ended up,” McGonigle added, “My father got himself, his wife, me, my sister out to Patchogue. Too far for relatives to stop by.”
PHOTO BY ANNA SAAR
Place of birth: Brooklyn
Spouse: Anna Saar
Children: Elizabeth Marion and Lorcan Padraig Joseph
Residence: East Village, New York, N.Y.
Published works: “The Corpse Dream Of N. Petkov (Dalkey Archive/Northwestern University Press); “Going To Patchogue” (Dalkey Archive); “St Patrick’s Day, another day in Dublin” (University of Notre Dame Press). Much journalism in the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, New York Newsday, the Village Voice, the Guardian (London)… stories and poems in Bomb, the Gorey Detail, the Review of Contemporary Fiction, PIM, Poetry Ireland, Arena (Dublin), Broadsheet (Dublin), Publisher and editor of Adrift, a journal of Irish and Irish-American writing.
What is your writing routine? Are there ideal conditions?
Every day in the morning, neither rain nor shine, etc. Years ago, Anthony Burgess told me that there was no reason why a person shouldn’t be able to produce three novels a year if they did three pages every morning. So 900 pages a year with six weeks off. Of course, human nature being what it is, people do one or three days and then skip a day promising themselves to catch up. They don’t. So every morning for me.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
It will take your whole life to learn the something. And then you will probably not find what you expected or as is even more likely it will not be there. But if it is not a vocation – that old fashioned word – why do it? There are better ways to spend your time, to make money. I should have been a cop and then after 20 years been a mailman for 20 years. Instead I was a foot messenger for 25 years and then a college professor for some of those years and still do professing, but I have never really gotten beyond freshman comp classes. But I get to read and re-read what I like to read. Oh, yeah. I did teach creative writing briefly at NYU and Rutgers. At NYU, I had Tao Lin as a student but he was fully formed and at Rutgers I had a woman who was writing about the ghosts at a bus stop in Newark, where her sister had been murdered. And there were two guys, one writing about having sex with guys in motels on U.S.1 and this other guy was writing about men living in culverts by the side of the Jersey Turnpike. Oh, and one NYU kid went on to be a lawyer.
I feel sorry for people who teach creative writing their whole lives: it murdered Galway Kinnell for instance, though he was getting a quarter a million a year.
Name three books that are memorable in terms of your reading pleasure.
“Storm of Steel” by Ernst Junger, “Look Homeward Angel” by Thomas Wolfe, “First Love” by Ivan Turgenev.
What book are you currently reading?
I never read only one book at a time
Is there a book you wish you had written?
That has not yet been written.
Name a book that you were pleasantly surprised by.
I do not use a word like “pleasantly.” I do not read to be pleased but to think, to feel. I have never stopped reading “Parallel Stories,” by Peter Nadas, “Christ Versus Arizona,” by Jose Camilo Cela, “Journey to the End of Night,” by Celine, “Correction” by Thomas Bernhard, and “The Dead Of The House” by Hannah Green.
If you could meet one author, living or dead, who would it be?
Turgenev, Dante and I wish Hannah Green would come back from the dead.
What book changed your life?
All the books I have read have shaped my life. When I glance over the thousands of books in my “library,” each comes back in some form and so have each contributed to stocking my life, my imagination, my memory. But maybe the song “Lazarus” by Ray Wylie Hubbard with the line “At least you ain’t Lazarus and had to think twice about dying.”
What is your favorite spot in Ireland?
Grosvenor Square in Rathmines, a good address in the wrong city, but always in the center of it the tennis club I could never be a member of.
You’re Irish if…
You understand the comic nature of such interviews and how the comic is always in the unsaid. Only the thick headed require the comic to be spoken. Remember, as Flann O’Brien suggested, in Ireland you always built a house from the roof down.