Sunday, October 30, 2011

Story Sundays - Sinners, Edna O'Brien

I don't know if I'm breaking any Story Sunday guidelines here (Ellen and Shivanee please feel free to scold me in the comments), but I just couldn't help myself. This week I'd love to share an fascinating short story, "Sinners" by Edna O'Brien, superbly performed by actress Cynthia Nixon on the new-to-me radio program Selected Shorts. Selected Shorts is a public radio show produced by Symphony Space and WNYC Radio (distributed by Public Radio International), in which short stories by established and emerging writers are performed by "stars of stage and screen," and recorded live. I was thrilled to not only hear this story by Edna O'Brien, whose work is also new to me, but also to hear Ms. Nixon's lovely rendition of it.

"Sinners" is the story of Delia, a lonesome, somewhat embittered older woman and owner of a bed and breakfast, who often has trouble sleeping. Typically, Delia's mind wanders at night - obsessing over seemingly small things, such as quirks of the house and needed repairs. Now a family has come to stay with her, parents with a daughter. During their stay, Delia is reminded of her own unhappy marriage and of her children who have grown up and left her. Delia doesn't usually like guests to stay too long, she afraid they will make themselves a little too at-home, and even more afraid "she might grow attached to them and ask them to stay longer, for the company." But in this case, the family annoys her early on with their expectations; subsequent events during their stay cause her normally tame late-night wonderings to turn wild, grotesque, disturbed.  

O'Brien captures Delia's isolation, stalwart forbearance, indignation, and fragility with fairly straightforward language and carefully chosen detail - there is no overembellishment in the descriptions of her home and belongings, the memory of her husband, the habits of her children, and her gradual unraveling. Delia's darkest speculations were utterly surprising, and the story as a whole was fascinating, unsettling, and moving. Ms. Nixon brilliantly and suspensefully conveyed Delia's emotional decomposition, keeping me rapt until the end.

If you enjoy"Sinners," you might continue on to hear the second story (also from O'Brien) entitled "Black Flower." This story is also gorgeously read (complete with gorgeous Irish accent) by author Colum McCann. I will definitely be seeking out more O'Brien stories, and look forward to many more Selected Shorts. 

You can listen to the story, free, at Selected Shorts is also available as a free podcast on iTunes.

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Story Sundays was created by Ellen at her blog Fat Books and Thin Women, and has been joined in this weekly meme by Shivanee of Novelniche: A Place for Books. Be sure to pop over to their blogs to read their Story Sunday picks!

Happy reading (and listening).


  1. I'm so glad you joined in (especially since I am on my blog break and not reading many stories right now)! I'm going to save this story to listen to a little later...also looking forward to exploring the backblog of Selected Shorts podcasts!

  2. Thanks, Ellen- I think you will enjoy the story and the whole series! - a wonderful program. Hope you are enjoying many adventures.

  3. It sounds fantastic, Jennifer! Delia seems like such an elaborately constructed character, based on your description of her. Like Ellen, I'm saving this for a bit later, as I am furiously scribbling away in order to get my own Story Sunday post up (you know, while it's still Sunday, ha), but I'm looking forward to listening.

  4. I do think you'll enjoy it - wonderful story, wonderful reading.

  5. Sounds like a fascinating story, and I like the idea of actor/actresses reading them on radio; it's like having free audio books. I will have to see if I can listen to it online.

    Thanks for sharing.

  6. Thanks, Lena. You should be able to listen online or subscribe to the podcast. They get some excellent actors/actresses to participate, which in itself is a treat! Enjoy!


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