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Oona

Oona

by Alice Lyons

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Overview

In Alice Lyons’ implosive first novel, Oona, child of first-generation American migrants, lives in an affluent New Jersey suburb where conspicuous consumption and white privilege prevail. A silence surrounding death extends to the family home where Oona’s mother lies dying of cancer. As her inner life goes into shutdown, Oona has her first encounters with sex, drugs and other adolescent rites of passage.

What does a voice alienated from itself sound like? How can the creative process be truthfully represented? In this remarkable debut, a female character’s fraught journey into adulthood is rendered in vivid colour. Oona, the emergent artist, encounters the physical world and the materials of her craft, engaging with her losses through Ireland’s culture and landscape.

As boom turns to bust, Oona’s story, articulated without the letter ‘o’, inhabits a world of fracture and false promise, conveyed by elision yet miraculously made whole and real in the telling.



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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781843517733
Publisher: Lilliput Press, Limited, The
Publication date: 03/01/2020
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 176
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

Alice Lyons is a writer whose work embraces the visual arts. She is a recipient of the Patrick Kavanagh Award for Poetry (2002) and the inaugural Ireland Chair of Poetry Bursary awarded by Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill (2004). Her poetry film, The Polish Language, co-directed with Orla Mc Hardy, was nominated for an Irish Film and Television Award (IFTA, 2010). Originally from the USA, where she was Radcliffe Fellow in Poetry and New Media at Harvard University 2015/16, she has lived in the west of Ireland for over twenty years. She lectures in writing and literature at the Yeats Academy of Art, Design & Architecture, IT Sligo.

Read an Excerpt

In time back when she lived. When she smelled up the car, when her fingers drummed and fingered the fluted-like-pie-crust Buick steering wheel. When she reached her arm instinctively, braced me in the bench seat beside her every time she hit the brakes in rainy streets. Her presence pulsing, fragrancing the space. Breath-warm car, car where we faced the same way: street signs, lights, suburban streets, Jersey sights like malls, highways, bargain basements. Car she’d furtively park at the side, dig up wild tiger lilies in Wayne and replant in her garden beside the azaleas. Tiger-lily thief. Car where, when smaller, I backseat slept, cheek mashed in the leatherette wetted with my deep-sleep spit. Then we ended up in Atlantic City and Aunt Wally. Aunt Wally the funnest, heartfeltest in the family. Instant happiness seeing her smiling at me in her bullet-bra swimsuit, hearing her Philadelphia accent. Sea-swimming with Aunt Wally the everyday swimmer she was. Then the car warm, sandy. Aunt Wally’s clam-pie dinners. Uncle Seán grumpy in the recliner, face like meat, whiskey at his side and Winnie clucking, serving, wiping. Uncle Seán with the insurance firm: Burns & Sparks.

The car was an us-place – she and me else Dad and she and me travelling, visiting relatives less rich than us in Fair Lawn and Midland Park, relatives that were teachers and clerks and insurance agents and candy sellers, still immigrant-tinged and living with recent immigrants. Dad an executive, which barricaded us away in the white places, tenement- and hue-free we were. The car – the vehicle that bridged us and the relatives severed by the cash difference. The car carried us the distance the cash didn’t span. We swam in the relatives’ inflatable baths, ate their grilled meats, adults drank their martinis and manhattans in their less leafy tracts with less acreage. They never said there was a cash gulf but there was. It was felt. We visited them; they never visited us. Stranded in the affluent suburbs that were indigent-free. Every minimum-single-acre resident in that suburb-present grew up in a crammed-sibling-bed past, knew hunger, knew handball in the streets, were tainted sepia-tinted, grannies and granddads in dirty rags and need, gruelling sea travels that were unspeakable. Laundry hanging between buildings, ladies peeking behind starched lace curtains. Time passed, wars. The 1950s arrived and wham! in came shiny appliances, marble baths, laundry chutes, minibars, multiple car garages, car-key swinging parties that freaked them, in their disremembering track with its single future-based, cash-accumulating, hue-free path.

Severance. Strandedness. It was felt.

I felt it as a chill in my centre, a slashed umbilicus when we left the relatives’ parties in the denser areas and headed back up 208 past the trees. Urban Farms was the suburb name. Passed the club and the lake where the suntan cream slicked the surface in summer. It was like being cut but it was said we were lucky, privileged. It was a time-slice in the American myth-dream and it was pervading. It paved life’s vagaries, varieties, uncertainties, eschewals with urgency. That life was a bright, flat, white space that lacked penumbral shades and skins. Darkness in its rich varieties and death as a simple fact didn’t figure. It was a klieg-light, leisurely life with big cars, fake ski areas and subterranean IBM missile bases where Indian land had been. Sun-drenched and untrue, it was a ruin in the making.

Art class was where the life was. It was her gift. Every birthday. Mine. Late in the day I entered the piney, sharp turpentine tang that tickled the sinuses. Easels and palette tables – the metal tables printed with rural English hunting scenes that adults ate at while watching TV. A sink where I cleaned my hands in dumped turps. Alban Albert, New Jersey artist, was the teacher. He made landscapes, green-and-white-dappled that sat well in heavy frames, graced the bank managers’ and lawyers’ chambers in New Jersey. Mr Albert was gentle, instructive, discreet. His craft was in charge. I’d find a painting I liked in a magazine and Alban taught the making craft. I did Dürer’s hare. Andrew Wyeth’s lightning finial. Cassatt’s girl in a chair. Edgar Degas’s self-likeness. An Edward Curtis black-and-white Native American with a blanket in ricrac patterns I did in grey pastels.

Time was different in Alban Albert’s space, a squarish building in a car park near Franklin Avenue. In my father’s discarded grey-white shirt, I carried my paints and brushes in and entered the slipstream. A silent speech began rivering in me. Subject – palette – canvas – subject – palette – canvas. Started with a light pencil sketch. Light because heavy graphite blackened the paint applied after. Then the pigment-feel – gritty Raw Umber, Cadmium Red like warm butter, vibrant, blaring. The pigment-feel at the brush tip, the hue at its height.

There was little talking. Mr Albert circulated. Whatever he said was hushed. He mixed a new hue silently, swished pigments with a palette knife, brushed it up there subtly, a new view. We’d stand back, have a think. Try it again. Little by little the painting built up. He brushed brief liquid lines in fluid pigment, weaving the hare’s fur a brush-line at a time. Lamp Black, Burnt Umber, Raw Sienna, Zinc White, thatched lines built up, became hare-like.

I had an innate fluency. I’d sense the hue, what pigments amassed in the nameless shades. I’d test a hue mix and usually arrived at it in the first try. I matched hard and blurry edges with the edges in the picture I was imitating, knew that a bunched-up rag was as much a painting implement as fine-haired Russian sable. I’d brush a tint up there, step back, think. It was a space I sank in like a sea. I relished being in that place with painters beside me but I didn’t much set my abilities against theirs. I appreciated what they made, but I existed in myself, didn’t have much uncertainty that I can recall. After her death this characteristic vanished. I became a vacillating entity.

Raw canvas was like a light table shining beneath pure pigments – hues blazed unabashedly lit. If I put Burnt Sienna after a dried bluish layer, then Burnt Sienna had its legs cut beneath it. Bleakened. The grey spectrum, all the tints and shades were my native habitat. Then there was the entire predicament deciding what is put beside what. Will it have what it takes? Vying with all that is up there? Will it play its part? Is it yelling, is it underbeing? If it’s imprecise, scrape it with a pyjama scrap, chuck it in the metal pedal bin. Maybe just let it sit there and see.

Painting was an undivided self-speech. Language flimmering in my veins. It was talking with my hands, wrists, fingers, eyes, gut, even smell. Ink-derived pigments didn’t smell as nice. The turp smell, the linseed, the brush-eye-subject-palette-canvas ballet was inbuilt. She didn’t give this as she’d given me talk language, but she enabled it in the art-class gift every birthday. She didn’t speak it herself but she saw I had that speech. Maybe it was the way I’d lingered in museums the few trips we’d taken. The Met. The Frick. Whatever. Fact is that she saw it. Saw I. Maybe saw her seed-me unplanted. She didn’t fear it, she didn’t push it away. Rather she cherished it. This was a gift.

Table of Contents

1 Sanctum

1 (Diminished) 3

2 (In-baby-side) 4

3 Maybe 5

4 Star 6

5 Island 7

6 (IIIIII) 9

7 Chastity Belt 10

8 Explain 11

9 Sanctum 12

10 There Was the Day That She 14

11 My Feet Felt Everything 16

12 Where Can I Dig? 17

13 (_na) 18

14 Paint Speech 19

2 Michanagrape

15 Ranch Me 23

16 Crazy Mare Mall 27

17 Mustard Shag 29

18 Dürer's Hare 32

19 Mike Zwick 36

20 Michanagrape 38

21 Leaf Litter 42

22 Plexus 43

23 Clap Clap 46

24 Patersin 47

25 Annie Squarcialupi 50

26 Bra 52

27 Typewriter Supplies 53

28 Bubble Wrap 55

29 Charred Vine 56

-o- 59

3 Teetering in Museums

31 Ari Feldman 65

32 Drug-Drenched Paper Scrap 67

33 Trader Vic's 69

34 Ireland 1980 73

35 Speech is a planting but not everything thrives 77

36 Teetering in Museums 82

37 Feelings 86

38 Venetian Red 92

39 In Abeyance 94

40 Haystack 95

41 There Is a Snake That Warms Itself in the Sun at Certain Times 101

42 Payne's Grey 103

43 Help 106

44 Bench, High Line 107

45 Painting a Dead Man 108

46 Citizen 110

4 The Maw

47 The Maw 115

48 Near Leitrim 118

49 In the Village 120

50 List 125

51 Muddy Jar 127

52 Muddy Jar 127

53 The Art & Writing Level 131

54 Dismember Remember 133

55 Pile: Midsummer's Eve 134

56 Cian the Barbarian 136

57 A Fabric 138

58 Lace Curtain 142

59 Backfill 144

60 Write It 147

61 Septic 150

62 Current 153

63 Match Sunday 155

64 Tea 159

65 Mullingar Latte 161

66 Archive 164

67 Man-Wig 165

68 Burnt Umber 166

5 Shite

69 Peak Mutter 173

70 Thuds 175

71 Gab 176

72 Urban Farms Revisited 178

73 Gall 180

74 Trailer 183

75 Treatment 186

76 Paper 188

77 Village Pets 190

78 Yeller 191

79 Dark Beans 193

80 Wake 195

81 FUCK THE EU 197

82 Sea Swims (early spring) 198

6 Clashybeg

83 Sandglass 205

84 Cash 209

85 The Fletchers 216

86 Legless 218

87 Silverfish 220

88 Philip G. 223

89 Self Painting 227

90 Rick Three-Sticks 229

91 Saskia 232

92 Mutt-Mass-Car-Park Face 234

93 Drawing Inishmurray 235

94 Suddenly 238

95 In the Rainwater Barrel 242

96 Bleachgreen 248

7 GALILEELEELEELEELEELEELEELEELEELEELEELY

97 Unlimitedness 253

98 Pastry Blender 257

99 Sea Swims (summer) 259

Acknowledgments 261

Notes 262

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