Midfield Dynamo’s contents page is laid out in the classic ‘starting eleven’ formation of a soccer team, plus one for the coach–call it a gaffer’s dozen. Far from a gesture of fancy-dan frivolity to impress the talent scouts, our author’s deeper purpose is ‘to visualize the book’s elements, structure and possible patterns’ in order to realize the collective’s most impactful thematic potential. This strategic approach is reinforced by implicit connections drawn between the pieces: Duncan, a trained engineer and visual artist, has included an accompanying sketch (reminiscent of a tactics playbook) that the stories’ field positions can be mapped onto.
The title piece kicks off with memories of its narrator’s football-avid father, then of his grandfather’s hapless drifting from enterprise to disappointed enterprise in mid-century Midlands Ireland. (Caught midfield indeed.) The real creative pivot of the collection, though, is the number 6, “Prosineçki”: a disillusioned footballer’s apology for the moral worth of selfless service to the collective over the individual’s quest for ‘aesthetic effect’ and personal glory.
Duncan’s stories are as often about disenchanted engineers and struggling artists facing ruin (physical or financial) as they are about devalued footballers facing the transfer market. The overarching connection between these austerely executed but richly imagined narratives has to do with the before and after of aspiration and disappointment, hope versus despair – not just across the arc of a career, but in the vexed history of family ties, estranged relationships, life’s other pursuits. For life (to steal the cliché) is a game of two halves. Have it! Tom Treacy