reviewed by Clare Toohey
I love mythology, all kinds of mythology, anyone who has dipped into the world I created in The Even won’t be surprised to read that. I have well-thumbed copies of The Heroes’ Journey and The Masks of God by Campbell on my shelves and I am fascinated by the similarities and even more by the differences in myth cycles. If I’d known it was an option when I was a child I’d have told people I wanted to be a mythologist (instead I told them I wanted to be a jockey).
Irish mythology though, that has a special place in my heart. Amidst all my promiscuous myth loves, it’s the one I always come back to. It resonates with me, my ideas and my narrative aesthetic.
So when the editors approached me to write a story for this anthology I wasn’t lacking in ideas, if anything I had too many of them. Partholon and his sorry fate? Fercherdne’s homicidal loyalty to his lord? How could I choose? In the end, and again no one who knows me will be surprised, the story I picked is one of the less heroic of the heroic tales: the fate of King Bres.
It was the pragmatism that appealed — there is a surprising vein of it running through Irish myth. Once I had that idea in my head, the rest of the story took shape around it. My shabby, seedy world of drug dealers, mother’s grief and compulsion. I hope you like it. I certainly enjoyed writing it.
T.A. Moore’s story RED MILK begins with a dead, thuggish teen of the type whose mother is typically shown at the barrel of a newscaster’s mic explaining how the sweet boy wasn’t given a proper chance. Only in this case, Brigid won’t see anyone or look for understanding. She’s in her son’s room, torturing herself with his things, and her rage is awful, messy and unobliging. Her passionate grief pricks stepfather Lugh’s pride, but reads primarily like a hindrance to the smooth operation of his desires, not a season of its own, but a thing to be worked around like inconveniently placed furniture. Moore’s style in describing it all is poetic and economical, with a deft touch for the inevitably sad details. Nothing thrives in this place, no one is noble, and nothing is lovely. The writing is the pretty part.
“Lugh stood over the casket and sucked on a beer. It was flat and warm as a mouthful of piss, but he wasn’t going to confront the covey of old biddies in the kitchen just to get a cold one. They sat around the table in their shabby black plumage, drinking sweet tea and saying the faults of the dead like a rosary.”
Ex-con Lugh and his hard lieutenant, Dagda, are being pushed to exact vengeance, but the nominally-responsible party is a heroin dealer with whom they have a complicated history, ending with an exchange for Lugh’s promise not to murder him. This vow has become widely known, and now, is even bragged about by his competitor Bres as if the once-humiliation had turned to Kevlar. However, much is possible for a man willing to go further and sacrifice more than his opponent. How shall ruthless Lugh satisfy his woman’s bloodlust and uphold his street cred while giving the overconfident prick what he’s earned? Well, that’s the fun of reading, isn’t it?