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Some novelists run the risk of overstaying their welcome, perhaps overwriting due to indulgence in a particular character or scenario. Roddy Doyle (Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha) never feels like one of those writers. His stories, from short fiction to novels, are tightly wound coils of energy, humor and insight, waiting to spring on us. Smile is another stellar example of Doyle’s brand of dense, kinetic storytelling. In just over 200 pages, Doyle manages to tell us something startling, funny and strange about the nature of human tragedy and pain.
Smile follows Victor, a recently separated writer living on his own for the first time in years. Victor spends his evenings having a pint at the local pub, until this quiet ritual is interrupted by Fitzpatrick, an obnoxious and seemingly inescapable man who claims they were schoolmates. Victor can’t remember Fitzpatrick, but he can remember his Catholic school days, and suddenly the trauma of what happened there begins trickling back into his mind. As Doyle jumps between past and present, Victor’s life spools out before us, building to a startling realization that shakes him to his core.
Doyle has a particular talent for humor and dialogue, but he also has the rare quality of being able to balance an economy of language with a dense sense of perception. Not a word is wasted here, and there aren’t many to waste. This is a gift, and it’s one Doyle harnesses with particular power in Smile. This drives the book at an almost fever pitch, practically daring you to turn each page and see what kind of incisive character wisdom he’s about to impart next. By the end, even if you think you know what’s coming, you will be dumbstruck by the storytelling prowess at work. Smile is a brief, brilliant, frenzied reading experience that only Roddy Doyle could deliver.