Click here to read the story in its entirety on The New Yorker webpage. Danielle McLaughlin’s “The Dinosaurs on Other Planets” was originally published in the September 15, 2014 issue of The New Yorker.

 

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Click for a larger image.

I’ve never heard of McLaughlin before, and the magazine notes that she will be publishing her first collection next year . . . in Ireland. Perhaps this publication will get some other publishers interested in her work. We’ll have thoughts up soon.

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By |2014-09-08T09:46:13+00:00September 8th, 2014|Categories: Danielle McLaughlin, New Yorker Fiction|18 Comments

18 Comments

  1. Betsy September 8, 2014 at 4:26 pm

    Still on vacation, Trevor, but I loved this story. It is layered and has a depth of emotional content that feels both true and very carefully presented. I had a visceral reaction to it – recognition, apprehension, interest – McLaughlin quickened my reader’s pulse. When I return from vacation I want to look at just how she does this – although when a piece is as alive as this one is, there is so much going on that there is no touching it.

    McLaughlin says in her interview (http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/week-fiction-danielle-mclaughlin) that “Alice Munro, Kevin Barry, Flannery O’Connor, Anne Enright, and William Trevor are writers” that have influenced her. I can see that – except that I haven’t read Anne Enright.

    But this story is original, and it has a wonderful slow reveal. I am fascinated and moved by this grandmother’s sorrows and situation. What happens in the story reminds me of my own life, regardless that Kate’s situation could not be more different than mine. And in being reminded of the deepest feelings in my own life, I felt McLaughlin treated both the characters and the reader with reverence. I liked that.

    I like the way McLaughlin suggests the gravity of loss, the way she summons the reader’s emotions, and also the way she suggests the possibility that maybe all is not completely lost, after all.

    One more thing – the writer lives in Ireland, in rural Cork. To me, one of the great things about New Yorker stories is the frequent introduction to writers who do not live in the United States. Thanks for this one.

    One last thing – about reading on line. The new New Yorker is offering more and more stories available on-line in gorgeous print. But today, I was near a printer, so I saved the story to a Word document and then printed it. Heaven. The print was still gorgeous, and I also had lots of space to jot my notes. It was such a pleasure to read this wonderful story, with its slow reveal, with a pen, at the counter, in the posture I favor most as a reader.

    But back to the story, “The Dinosaurs on Other Planets”. This story makes me very interested in McLaughlin’s new book. I hope the she will become a New Yorker regular.

  2. Lee Monks September 8, 2014 at 4:56 pm

    I haven’t read this story yet (I will) but I can certainly recommended Anne Enright, Betsy.

    Also: what a great title!

  3. Roger September 14, 2014 at 1:41 am

    This is well-written at the sentence level, and McLaughlin has the gift of bringing characters to life so quickly.

    As a whole, this seemed somewhere between a vignette and a story. Maybe it rises to the level of story if one identifies a link between that great title and the ending. When Kate gazes up at the constellations at the end, perhaps we are being reminded of the observation made earlier in the story about other possibilities being realized on other planets, meaning the notion that alternatives to one’s disappointments may somehow exist when circumstances allow. Just as dinosaurs may exist on other planets, so is it possible that another version of Kate’s life exists somewhere out there in the cosmos. Kate may take some comfort in this, or maybe it heightens her heartbreak – why couldn’t *she* be the one whose life proceeded differently, with a husband who treats her with tenderness, a son who did not move to Japan, a daughter and grandson not about to depart for Australia? Or, why couldn’t she be the one who takes comfort in the sweet, available Pavel?

    Colman’s coldness toward Kate seemed puzzling. And when McLaughlin says in the page-turner interview that she doesn’t understand Colman’s behavior, I can’t help but object. The writer should know something like this, and should give us readers a hint.

    Anyway, interesting work.

  4. Jason Andrea September 17, 2014 at 10:38 pm

    The story was well written and had an eerie true-to-life or mysterious quality to it. But perhaps there was maybe a little TOO much mystery behind all of the characters we are introduced to??

    Regardless, there is something still nagging at me about this story. Was it just me, or did the author screw up on the age/meeting of the parents Kate and Coleman?

    The story ensues with Kate observing her husband, Coleman, chopping wood. She is marveling at his form, as the first paragraph states “Lately, she’d found herself wondering what he’d been like as a very young man, a man of twenty. She hadn’t known him then. He had already turned forty when they met.”

    Later in the story, as Kate goes for a walk with her daughter’s boyfriend, Pavel, he remarks that he also saw her husband chopping firewood in the morning. It is clear they are talking about Kate and Coleman’s marriage….

    “He’s remarkably fit for a man of his age,” said Pavel.
    “Yes,” she said. “he was always strong.”
    “you must have been very young when you married.” said Pavel to Kate.
    “I was twenty-three,” she said. “Hardly a child bride, but young by today’s reckoning, I suppose.”

    ok… am i lost, was Coleman 40 when they met and got married, or did they meet and get married at 23? I have a hard time believing that Ms. McLaughlin and the editors at The New Yorker missed this inconsistency, but isn’t that how it appears???

    Jason

  5. Roger September 17, 2014 at 11:22 pm

    Jason,

    I, too, wondered about the circumstances that led Kate to marry a man much older than she. As I read it, he was forty when they met and she was perhaps twenty, assuming they courted for three years before marrying. When they married, she was 23 and he was 43. Now, in the present moment of the story, she is 52 and he is 72, fit, and still chopping wood like a pro.

    My figures are estimates. Maybe there was a very brief courtship and the age difference is 17 years rather than 20, for example.

    Does this make sense?

  6. Betsy September 18, 2014 at 1:06 pm

    Something has happened to the husband. A person can be perfectly fit for chopping wood and yet have experienced some sort of sea change, and that change does not have to include a life with his wife. I think the writer represents Kate – she doesn’t understand what has happened – but clearly, something has. The story is about how she is going to deal with the situation. Coleman’s metamorphosis has already occurred. Kate’s is about to begin.

  7. lotusgreen September 18, 2014 at 10:11 pm

    The luminescent ending, “In the field behind the house, the pile of newly chopped wood appeared almost white in the moonlight, and moonlight glinted on the galvanized roof of the Dennehys’ shed and silvered the tops of the trees in the forest. There were stars, millions of them, the familiar constellations she had known since childhood,” reminded me of her comment earlier in the story, “There used to be a bench on the patch of concrete where the bin now stood. In the early years, when the children were at school and Colman at work, she’d often been seized by a need to leave the house and would put on a coat and sit in the garden, reading, as the wind deposited pine needles and bits of twig in her lap.” She has no more understanding than we do; and the wind continues to blow.

  8. Greg September 20, 2014 at 8:00 am

    Thanks lotusgreen for linking the above quotes. I will think more about this during the weekend……and thank you Betsy about the “sea change”. That is indeed the heart of the story.

  9. Sean H September 23, 2014 at 12:02 am

    Held my interest, not bad at a sentence level, but in the end it lacked weight. A bit too “Lifetime Network movie.” I don’t see it having much sticking power.
    sidenote: I usually hate the visuals that accompany stories in the New Yorker, and I still remember when they started doing that, how controversial it was (When was that, the early 2000s?), but that shot of the half-submerged skull, I must admit, is one of the more eye-catching ones they’ve ever done.

  10. juliemcl September 27, 2014 at 12:03 am

    A very fine-grained look at a life, a life in the now with just a bit about the past and nothing pointing towards what could happen in the future. It makes me want to know, both what’s going to happen and more about these characters. What does Kate perceive happened in the past with John, with Emer, with Colman; how did her family get so emotionally and geographically far-flung? Methinks McLaughlin could expand this into a novel if she wanted. But it’s okay; it stands well as a short story, as a snapshot focused on the now.

    I love lotusgreen’s comment about Kate not having any more understanding than we do. I think that’s right. I think we often miss the understanding of our lives in the now, or we are muddled in looking back on the past and seeing how we got to where we are. She may figure it out and she may not. She may or may not go through the sea change Betsy mentions.

    I find the “Lifetime Network movie” comment a bit puzzling. How so? I don’t watch the Lifetime network but I perceive that its movies are lurid or sordid dramatizations of true crime stories or adulterous affairs and such, with a focus on being from a woman’s point of view. Was the comment made solely because this story is from a woman’s point of view? Just as a counterpoint, following a middle-aged man’s point of view in a New Yorker story (‘Costello’, ‘The Largesse of the Sea Maiden’, just to name a couple) doesn’t make me think about the Spike or FX channel.

    All just to say that I don’t think this rich, perceptive story can be easily dismissed. There’s more in there than either Kate or we have figured out. Life is mysterious, and for some it stays more mysterious than for others.

  11. Madwomaninthe attic October 13, 2014 at 2:15 pm

    Like Julie, I bridled at the “lifetime network” comment. That said, I am much of Betsy’s mind (as I often am) about this story. I think that in its allusion to enormous outer worlds, it points to the possibility of Kate’s escape, whether acted on or not. The focus on Kate and her choices upstages Colman; yet the depiction of his actions, his chopping down a forestry hut heedless of the consequences, his taking his grandchild hunting for something to kill, and his silent dismissal of Kate’s advances imply a dead soul. Why not consider running away from a place where you have early been a stranger, where you have felt the need to leave your house, where your wishes for intimacy with husband, children and grandchild have come to naught? The author’s not ‘understanding’ Colman’s behavior doesn’t mean she hasn’t captured it. Do you ‘understand’ every sad, cruel action you witness? Do you want to consider pouring out a bucket of bleach filled with dead insects a terminus? I do.

  12. Ken November 10, 2014 at 5:38 am

    I agree with Sean, except not with the comparison to Lifetime. There are good passages, sentences, images but I felt a bit mystified at the end. I don’t need a story to explain everything or dot all the i’s and cross the t’s, but I felt too estranged from the characters’ motivations or backstories here. Why were Colman and Kate estranged, Emer and Pavel? Emer and her parents? Again, I don’t need trite psychoanalysis and overly explanatory back story but I felt a bit under-nourished by this.

  13. Betsy November 10, 2014 at 1:08 pm

    Ken – nice to hear from you again. I am wondering about this story – because it reads so differently to men and women. Perhaps something in this story speaks (as in speaking in code) to women. That, though instructive, would be a failing of the story.

  14. lotusgreen November 10, 2014 at 4:38 pm

    Do you think so, Betsy? I don’t need words to “get” the various alienations, there would be a whole novel required for each and I don’t know than I’d understand the state of the estrangement at the moment of the story any better. Maybe that is the code you’re talking about, the ability to take emotional stock of a situation from a multitude of the senses, and not just from “what makes sense.” *If* this is something women do more naturally from men, why should a story that relies on that, if this does, be a failing?

    It’s like here, with this cartoon. My friend Neil says you gotta be a guy to get it. Has it too failed?: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10204286095621845&set=pb.1512219189.-2207520000.1415651792.&type=3&theater

  15. lotusgreen November 11, 2014 at 12:04 am

    Forgive me Ken — this is out of context… but… I was looking over the comments section for Antonya Nelson’s earlier story, First Husband, which I had read before discovering this place. Also, totally coincidentally, I had just read your new comments here. Over there, you said, “I have the problem I often have with short stories–too much back story out of structural proportion to the actual narrative events in the present,” which, when compared with your comment here, strikes me as leaving a very narrow margin for the correct amount of backstory!

  16. Ken November 11, 2014 at 5:58 am

    Lotusgreen–I thank you for your comment. I am always trying to understand why a story works or doesn’t and I sometimes will write something like I did about this story where my theory was that explanation and back story were lacking. Interestingly, I had an opposite complaint about Nelson’s story. Well…it’s not as if there’s so “correct amount of backstory” within a narrow margin, but that there’s an ideal amount for each story (of course, this ideal is also partly simply my opinion only, not some scientific fact) and that I felt each failed in an almost opposite way. Actually, I tend to dislike too much back story and my complaint about McLaughlin’s story is sort of out of character for me. Plus…it’s not like I needed some huge, disproportionate amount but could have used SOMETHING!!! I’d say there’s a wide margin which perhaps narrows and widens on a story-by-story basis. I hope that’s clear. BTW: I thought the story in the next issue by Victor Lodato had a “just right” amount of back story.

  17. Ken November 11, 2014 at 6:00 am

    Also…whether or not I understand all the reasons for the alienation, I also didn’t really find this story very interesting. There were nice descriptions and the setting was well-described but I mostly thought–here were are with British (I guess Irish in this case) miserabilism again! The cramped lives and endless cups of tea in gloomy little rooms. Fooey!—or something like that.

  18. lotusgreen November 11, 2014 at 10:51 am

    Ken — You sure have made me smile first thing in the morning — not an easy thing to do! Re: “miserabilism” — ahhhh — what a very useful word! Thank you!

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