Monday, March 31, 2008

John Mutford's 9th Short Story Pick- Sean O'Faolain's "The Trout"

Short Story Monday

Sean O'Faolain's short story "The Trout" brought back an unexpected childhood memory for me. Julia, a twelve year old girl, is on summer vacation with her family when she happens to discover a secluded well, a well that holds a mystery trout.

Merits of the story aside for the moment, my father also used to keep a trout in our drinking well. It all came back to me as I read this: how he'd sometimes take the cover off and me and my sister would peer down into our silhouettes below and see who'd be the first to spy the little imprisoned fish. Why did he keep it there? No one in "The Trout" could come up with a satisfactory answer, and when I called to question my father about it today, he didn't really know either. "To catch the bugs," he supposed, but he'd no idea where the idea came from in the first place. Nor did the thought of fish poop seem to phase him. Anyway, when I tried the Internet to dig deeper into this bizarre tradition, all I could find was a few sites that mentioned other stories involving trouts in wells. According to one source, "These trout stories are common all over Ireland." Another told of a Scottish version of Snow White, in which a talking well trout replaces the magic mirror. Though my ancestry is British, I'm guessing similar tales influenced my father.

Sound cruel? Don't call PETA on my father just yet-- the trout has long been removed from his well. Julia was also bothered by the inhumanity. In fact, she couldn't get it off her mind and couldn't enjoy her vacation knowing it was there. This, perhaps predictably, leads to a decision to rescue the creature.

The version I've linked to is from "The Global Classroom" which provides a bit of background information (unfortunately it doesn't shed any light on why the fish in the well) and a few study questions. The question that caught my eye asked "What definition of maturity, or growing up, does the story convey?" I wondered about that one. Julia is twelve, and Faolain obviously picked an age at the cusp of adolescence for a reason. He remarks on several occasions what the age means; "...that age little girls are beginning to suspect most stories", "she knew that there are no such things as fairy godmothers" and so forth. But, these are lessons learned prior to the story and in that case, doesn't fit the bill for a coming-of-age story. Perhaps the only thing that could characterize it as such is Julia's final act, and I'm not sure even that is necessarily a defining decision.

But coming-of-age story or not, I enjoyed it. The story itself is simply told, rich in setting, and the characters are likable.

The Soundtrack:
1. Have You Fed The Fish?- Badly Drawn Boy
2. Tourist Trap- Bright Eyes
3. So Cruel- U2
4. Child of The Moon- The Rolling Stones
5. Running Down A Dream- Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

Cross posted at The Book Mine Set.


Eamon said...

This is a really interesting blog to stumble onto ..

Sencay said...

i agree!

Anonymous said...

tnx for the info ! it helped !

Stephanie McCabe said...

i appreciate your post. i'm teaching this story to tenth graders and we're trying to piece together the growing up part. there was nothing in our textbook about a tradition of keeping trout in wells, so i was somewhat confused by that.