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Fair-Weather Friend

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by Patricia Scanlan

Fair-Weather Friend is not a novel, nor even a novella. It is a single short story in the "Open Door" series published in Ireland by New Island. It is the kind of short story you might have expected to read in Woman’s Realm or similar magazines in the good old days when they actually printed fiction in between the features on fashion, cookery and who’s ****ing whom. Of course, it would be much too long for today’s magazines, whose editors assume an attention span of less than three minutes on the part of their readers.

Taken in this context, it is an enjoyable story. Melissa and Sophie go on holiday together. For some reason, despite previous experience, Sophie sympathises with Melissa and allows herself to be used as a doormat until the inevitable day when Melissa drops her for a handsome stranger. Shades of Shirley Valentine. The characters have no depth: it’s a straight choice between dumpy, frumpy do-gooder and spectacularly beautiful bitch with no redeeming features. Even the doctor-nurse romance is included, though not explored in any detail. All we find out about him is his name and the fact that he is tall, dark and handsome. The ending is a little more than a simple happy-ever-after, with an epilogue that shows history beginning to repeat itself.

Despite its entire predictability, we can enter the story. It tests our credulity, yet we all know real-life doormats. This is complete escapism, where the doormat turns heroine and ultimately becomes the envy of her tormentor. When Sophie bites back, we cheer rather than raising an eyebrow at the personality transplant she seems to have had.

The question at the back of my mind throughout, however, was why. What is the purpose behind the series? It obviously isn’t to encourage literary fiction, because, as fiction goes, Fair-Weather Friend is no more than a pot-boiler (though the authors who have contributed to the series in the past include such distinguished names as Marian Keyes and Roddy Doyle). It helps to fill the empty niche left by the better class of women’s magazines when they gave short stories the elbow in favour of bite-sized vignettes. I wondered who would pay 6.50 for a single short story that took me less than half an hour to read, but my answer was already there. My library, true to form, had invested in a copy. Why should they care how long it takes me to read a book as long as I take it out? In fact, the more such mini-books they buy, the more they can get on their shelves and the more their issue figures will rise. So perhaps it’s not such a bad publishing strategy after all. Perhaps I should try it myself.


ISBN 1 904301 47 9
New Island, 2004
76pp, paperback
Retail price 6.50

Open Book

Review by Deborah Fisher