In The Image, the unique piece of self-criticism that McGahern has written , the image, the vision, the rhythm are linked in a dialectical movement. The image is presented as a screen that projects memory and emotion, but it is also used to screen them off, as a protective barrier. Medusas mirror referred to in the short manifesto fends off the intolerable. Like Perseuss shield, it has an apotropaïc function. A screen and a mirror, art serves to ward off the blows of fate. The work is a mediation as well as a cosmos.
The writer in search of the lost image, attempts to create a world in which we can live, and to come to terms with our human condition, thanks to a world of the imagination over which we can reign to reflect purely on our situation through this created world of ours. And the world of imagination is central to McGaherns short stories. Thus the creator may be able to see and to celebrate even the totally intolerable through the image, as shown in McGaherns most recent short story Love of the World: As she turned back she heard a sharp click, but did not turn to see him lift the gun. One hand was reaching for the door when she fell, the other closed tight. When it was opened, it held a fistful of small black currants. (37).
Imagination has to go through the portal of image, which triggers it and is the result of it. Images located in the minds eye, Yeatss pictures of the mind are made up of memory and hover over the writers field. But the images are also linked to the rhythm and to the voice, conveying the poetic vision in a broad sense, making up a whole held together by the shape of the short story. It could be called the Medusas mirror of the short story, serving to deflect the intolerable through a strategy of deviation and obliqueness in a compact form. A finite piece of the infinite.
Patrols of the imagination
The phrase appears in italics: Mullins and Brennan switched their patrols of the imagination to the bog, where Reegan already slaved. (125) The embryo narratives offer minimal but detailed descriptions:
The reports are very banal, the bad weather being nothing unusual in Ireland. A big event is finding cattle on the road. The patrol is supposed to have lasted over four hours. No great imagination is needed to write them; nevertheless the patrols of the imagination, grounded in the memory of other real patrols and made up of remembered and reorganized material, produce make-believe. The reports are comparable to the same process as the one at work in McGaherns fiction, which is grounded in a recognizable reality, on a will to anchor fiction in the commonplace through names, places, habits, time reference, taking place mostly in mid-century rural Ireland, but also Dublin, London and the contemporary world. To talk of a world of imagination might be paradoxical, but it should be remembered that to create is to build up a world, assembling material and putting it all together to form a believable shape .
Nothing glamorous, then, in A Slip-up, a story in which an old man dreams he is working on his farm. Nostalgia in front of Tescos. Yet ethics and esthetics are linked in a shape, a choice of place and people . This local texture of McGaherns fiction in voice and in the concretely referential detail, assumes a symbolic status that is at the heart of his vision.  as Denis Sampson puts it. Voice, image, and rhythm, linked to a concern for the life of a family and of a community, make up a true, literary work, a microcosm, brought about by poetic vision. The recurring preoccupation of McGaherns fiction is the writing of a contemporary epic . Meaning and sound, rhythm and meanings mingle together to find a wonderful shape in the short story as a poetic choice.
Making up fictitious patrols, writing as if staying inside the house of fiction, seeing it as a protection and only imaginatively venturing forth into the world, through the work of imagination and memory, this is also what is done in fiction-writing and reading. As expressed in a schizoid way in The Leavetaking: there are two worlds: the world of the schoolroom in this day, the world of memory becoming imagination 
Medusas mirror 
Depersonalized sentences juxtaposed paratactically as an enumeration cause the subject to leave pride of place to the detailed, remembered vision. The circularly-shaped story is clearly framed: and I listened to the story they were telling (CS 3), repetition of a life in the shape of a story that had as much reason to go on as stop(CS 10). The narrator fades into the background as another narrator tells about a failed suicide, a story similar to the narrators life.
[T]he loose wheels rattling at the beginning and all the vivid sections of the wheel we watched so slowly turn, impatient for the rich whole that never came but that all the preparations promised.(CS 11) at the end represent the slow movement of the story as the same becomes the other, parts make up a whole. It imparts a visual shape to the story and also evokes the shape of a collection of short stories, made up of vivid sections of the whole. Wheels insists on cycles and circular structures, a recurring feature in John McGaherns fiction, which Like All Other Men illustrates too: In my end is my beginning, he recalled. In my beginning is my end, his and hers, mine and thine, the biblical words here emphasizing emptiness, endless as a wedding ring (CS 280); but the chiasmus also reflects the structure of the story built on an intersection of lives and their sudden divergence.
In Sierra Leone the question: Where now is Rose? suddenly triggers an image of the dead woman
Rose on her bicycle, an image of happiness that recurs in Amongst Women, is vividly rendered present by minute details - and such trivial ones as the failing of brakes.  Thus memory provides an escape as the patrols of the imagination did, a way to come to terms with the intolerable. At times, the difference between fiction and reality is so slight that the reader is taken in by the characters drifting away from the world of the senses.
In A Slip-Up, Michael still grieves over the loss of his farm between two lakes. Each day while shopping with his wife at Tescos, he slips back into daydreams and memories of working on his former farm. Literally, through its reconstruction, the character manages to keep a hold onto the past and himself. One day, his wife forgets to collect him, and Michael works longer than usual. Thanks to memory, through a series of shifts he slips out of reality. The use of the active verbs in the preterite form, of concrete details, of time markers such as now, for all that time, and then, blurs the distinctions between day-dreaming and reality.
The reader is then invited to a free indirect discourse:
The powerful image of an old man standing in front of Tescos without even seeing it and waiting with his empty shopping bag recurs in another story about the meaning(lessness?) of life. In Why Were Here Gillespie tells Boles: The crowd up for Croke Park saw [Sinclair] outside Amiens Street with an empty shopping bag. They said he looked shook. Booked close enough to the jump. (CS 13), and in the same story: And he ends up after all his guff with an empty shopping bag outside Amiens Street Station.(CS 14). Sinclair is a Protestant turned Catholic; the flavour of his speech is rendered in italics: It was no rush of faith, let me tell you good sir, that led to my conversion. I was dragged into your Holy Roman Catholic Apostolic Church by my male member. These words are an echo of another story The Conversion of William Kirkwood. When Michael in A Slip-Up feels so ashamed of himself that he dreads joining the usual circle of acquaintances at the pub, he recalls the excitement people felt as they all [ ] were elated too on the small farms around the lakes for weeks after Fraser Woods had tried to hang himself from a branch of an apple tree in his garden.(CS 132) The failed suicide attempt echoes Wheels:
One would need more time to study the differences between the occurrences of apparently similar incidents, of memories used in different ways.
These examples show the cohesion of the microcosm patiently built up by McGahern:
Yet, as the shape of the wheel shows, a collection of short stories is more than the addition of units, however explosive. It is a whole fragmented world reconstructed in the readers mind that provides the cement the way as in a mosaïc. Of course, the tension is greater than in a novel, the rhythm is strict and every word counts, and this might serve to characterize the short story as we will see; but read as a whole, the collection is also close to society. And engines work thanks to little explosions.
Of course, cohesion and repetitions are part of the linking process, but there never is such a thing as the same story. McGaherns idea of the writer as beginner rests on the difficulty of having to rework the same material.
What A Slip-Up shows, too, is the extreme concentration which possesses the dreamer to the point of forgetting the surrounding world, a point reached both through reading and writing, as McGahern once acknowledged.
It is precisely the wish to escape a boring time and place through reading that Strandhill, the Sea stages. The story twists the different voices, narratives, repeating the same pattern, twisting little comedies together as many different strands or topics at story level about sex, cars, geography, writers, names; and other strands which occur on an interpretative level, such as cruelty, power and sex games, idleness and idle talk, paralysis, and the image of the coming darkness of death:
As initiation to the world of imagination reading offers the only possible refuge. The end of the story is remarkable: the young boy enters the world of his stolen comics and the italics visually metamorphose the sentence, switching from the Wilson of the reading in the real world to the Wilson of the summed-up world of imagination.
In the world of imagination, the young boy whose portrait of the artist as a young boy is drawn, reigns with the performing gods, while the people on the bench remain stranded, unable to walk the mile that separates them from the sea, at Strandhill.
As we have seen, the image has a creative role, that of building up a world. Many stories also stage, often in a covert way, writers, books, words and their meaning, as well as storytelling. Among others, this is the case of Wheels, Strandhill, the Sea, My Love, My Umbrella, the Beginning of an Idea, Parachutes, Peaches, in which a writer is confronted with sterility and violence. Not forgetting stories in which the narrators often bitter irony debunks canonical genres, as in Christmas, the counter Christmas carol, or in the pathetic love-story of The Stoat.
Old Fashioned offers an other view figure of the creator, a mixture of irony directed against so-called modern changes (CS 269-271), a bitter-sweet remembrance of things past. The polysemic, ironical title also points to the fact that the story is not an old-fashioned one. The sergeants son of the story has become a famous film-maker whose work is controversial. The criticisms echo reviews of McGaherns work.
But when the producer came with a television crew to make a film for a series called My Own Place, things had so changed that he was out of touch [ ] with the place.
Then he starts telling the story of the Sinclairs, and the camera does its job.
In this short story that reconstructs a lost world, that of Protestant gentry and Catholic village people, the barracks, the village, Boyle, Rockingham estate and Ardcarne parsonage, as well as an episode in the life of the sergeants son, the final image filmed by the camera turns out to be powerless. The sergeants son is evoking memories and the dead. The camera can only show what is in front of it; it can only register the presence of an absence. But the voice can do what the image can not: through the producers comment, an echo of the beginning of the short story, and an echo is the aural equivalent of an image, images have been conjured up and a whole world revived during the span of time it took to read the short story, rendering visible and readable the invisible world of fiction.
Thus, the rhythm and the voice supply what the image cannot. Twisted and stranded together they produce meaning in a complex and inseparable way. If the vision and the rhythm bring forth the image, the image is sustained by the rhythm and the voice.
Pike choked on hooked perch
This teaches him to be ruthless in turn, as the parallelisms in the ironical syntactic patterns seem to suggest when his voice echoes his fathers.
Rhythm and image are meaning as ellipsis at the end shows too when silence is as loud as the voice.
The ellipsis of the complement opens up meaning as the text becomes enigmatic: it may suggest, as D. Sampson remarks, that the son absorbed into the fathers world, is ready to murder in his turn, having learned the law of the survival of the fittest . It also implies that, like the young soldier of the beginning, young men are cannon fodder sent to war by their fathers too. . But the narrator survives, thanks to his stubborness and unspoken knowledge, and, unlike Isaac, refuses to be sacrificed on the altar of anothers survival . Thus, there exists a faintest hint at murder, as the son watched closely as if [he]too had to prepare [himself] to murder, that is to murder who? his father? at least symbolically, to grow. But ellipsis also shows clearly in its omission the power of silence, to choose to tell or not to tell a secret, as the etymology of the word secret confirms: se-cernere means to set apart. Father and son are similar and set apart in their refusal to utter the truth.
Thus, silence, to quote Henri Meschonnic, is to make of a word or the absence of a word, both rhythm and meaning.  This occurs in My Love, my Umbrella where the body will provide what language fails to give in a criss-cross pattern of repetitions and linking anadiplosis: Perhaps the rain, the rain will wash away the poorness of our attempts at speech, our bodies will draw closer, closer than our speech(CS 67)  Image and rhythm are clearly intertwined in the structure both of the story and of its beginning and its end, carefully mirroring one another:
Between beginning and end, unfortunately, knowledge and misery have altered things: from constant the weather has become normal, it is impossible to be as one was before, as the chiasmic structure, to which a slight reshuffling of the terms is added, proves.
In Strandhill, the Sea, the rhythm, both in the telling and in the sound, gathers momentum when the boy escapes Parkes Guest House to steal comics while the boring conversations drag along.
Thus sensations and movement, registered paratactically, and the power of alliteration, is brought to the fore as the subject takes the background. The images erupt together with breathless rhythm, and then become structure when the hopping of the ball indirectly points to the boy as a subject; and by its alternate movement the ball also points to the shape of the story, twisting various strands into a braid, alternating past and present, reality and imagination, telling and feeling. The hopping under my hand idle as the conversations from the green bench (CS 39), becomes: while the tennis ball hopped or paused (CS 40), and then: The ball was idle in my hand. Form and flux are linked together as well as rhythm, voice and meaning.
The unrelenting ticking of a new watch in Gold Watch could represent a paradigm of the intertwining of image, rhythm and meaning.
The narrators expectation is disappointed as time did not have to reach to any conclusion (CS 225). Measured time immersed in a flow, a flux, beats a rhythm immersed in a blue maceration of the poisoned flow that will corrode and stop. Another way for the father to try to escape time, to change the human condition. The intolerable has been deflected once more and time forgotten during the reading of this compelling story.
The weight of words, the voice:
To speak of the weight of words points to their ponderous existence as in those Solid Objects Virginia Woolf writes about. To render their weight and to give words their full meaning, the voice is best, because eloquence is the flesh of rhetoric, as vowels and consonants are the flesh and skeleton of words. The voice gives a body to language, like colour in painting. The energizing power of the voice is best exemplified by shovel or shite, shite or burst, the formidable leitmotiv in Hearts of Oak, Bellies of Brass, the story in which the title beats rhythmically a ternary and binary pattern: an amphimacer followed by the mirror sounds of trochee and iamb, inverted in the shouting shovel or shite, shite or burst: trochee/iamb, amphimacer).
While reading McGaherns short stories one hears truly a voice uttering the text, voicing it, a scanning and a rhythm. Some sounds would have to be lengthened and metrically scanned: this is truly the art of the story-teller when language includes the whole being, when the flavour of speech is meaningful, so that language is full-bodied, as one says of red wine. The local voice, and that of a whole community, is the flesh of language, a subjectivity one has to pay heed to, as in Korea: I was wary of the big words, they were not in his voice or any persons voice.
Hence, the importance of dialogue and the choice of words that reflect peoples speech; for example, from Why Were Here.
One has to allow for the humour and irony which come as critical counterpoints and attract the readers attention to different levels of meaning. For instance, in Old Fashioned the narrator expresses regrets
As in other churches, the priest now faces the people, acknowledging that they are the mystery. [ ] The words are in English and understandable. The congregation gives out the responses. The altar boys kneeling in scarlet and white at the foot of the altar steps ring the bell and attend the priest, but they no longer have to learn Latin. (CS 269.)
Through the loss of the use of Latin, not only have the words lost their mystery but the incomprehensible words, which was a way of imagining the unreachable beyond, become banal. The voice one hears throughout the story is truly a calling. Like a religious formula it can be intoned and repeated: truly the Word made Flesh. And the role of religious celebration, as a structural principle, an initiation into a form of mystery through ritual and patterns of repetitions and words, must not be underestimated.
Art and religion satisfy similar yearnings for meaning, Denis Sampson states . Religion as a means of apprehending transcendence and a sense of mystery, naturally leads to an initiation into music, poetry and rhythm, into representation. Vision as meaning is experienced. In The Image, McGahern clearly states what art and religion have in common and where they diverge:
It is here, in this search for the one image, that the long and complicated journey of art betrays the simple religious nature of its actitivity: and here, as well, it most sharply separates itself from formal religion. 
Art and religion link a community and give it a voice as well as expression. Phoné, hearing poetry approximate the rhythms of speech, and feeling too that it is as much a part of ones own life and mind as poems that have been memorised.
The reader the writer seems to have very much in mind, in a way calling out to the others necessary presence. The reader is the writers privileged addressee: The final thing you put on any work is shape, which to a certain extent is a formal shape. Its almost like arranging the material. In shaping the work you betray the fact that youre hoping for an audience because the shape is the social form of the work . This implies the function of the shape as part of a situation of utterance the presence of a potential addressee conditioning the shape of the work, as it is to be read, to reach a destination. Thus the writer escapes tautology and solitude, as he wants to make a certain impression on his reader: to find order in life. Thus McGahern sees the role of the reader as an active one, a cooperation:
The reader has to draw from the material of his own life, as much as the writer does, to flesh out the work, as it were.
Poetics of the short story
These pages printed in last years TLS are actually pages from John McGaherns work in progress, a novel the provisional title of which might be That He May Face the Rising Sun. The pages are presented as a short story and can work as a short story, being a well structured narrative unit, with a neat progression and conclusion. A comedy of characters full of humour - and bitterness, too, at the folly of men. This text raises again the theoretical question: what is a short story? how can one define it as a genre: in terms of length? unity of effect (Poe)? tension of the voice?  It is close to the novel and poetry because of its brevity and necessary compression of rhetorical devices, and close to drama as it also fits the theatrical form. One recalls John B.Yeatss letter to his son about his play: It is natural to an Irishman to write plays, he has an inborn love of dialogue and round him is a dialogue as lively, gallant and passionate as in the times of great Eliza .
Short story writing is akin to the work of dreams: that is, condensation, displacement, analogy. A strong encoding of the text through a well-knit structure, metaphors, figures of construction such as chiasma, parallelisms, gradations, repetitions, but also ellipses and figures of omission are strictly necessary because of the brevity of the genre. To say more with less words. The short story is also close to poetry through its rhythm, images, sounds, alliterations and assonances. No wonder, then, that McGahern, a true poetry lover and a born orator, should have chosen a compact form similar to that of the poem, because of its density and brevity, its spareness and maximum use of rhetoric. Truly, it is a microcosm, metonymic of the world, like Medusas mirror, a finite piece of the infinite, a synesthesia combining image and sound.
The rhythm, then, signals the presence of a subject, a story-teller. One can forget the typographical layout and listen to the cadence of the rhythm. Then one hears the lyrical voice. A simple change in the layout, and the image in all its detail, the rhythm and the metre, become self-evident.
As we began with one Yeats, let us end with another, Yeats the father, John Butler Yeats. John McGahern has written an introduction to a new edition of his Letters , depicting the life and character of the painter and of his gifted sons and devoted daughters. The choice of the character of the father tells a lot about McGaherns admiration and taste. J. B.Yeats was a failed artist who never compromised with his own desires and feelings. He squandered money and ruined his portraits, disregarding success and the sitters good will. His eldest son, the poet, engaged with his father in a long battle of minds and formidable wills that was to last his lifetime (6):
This is the only first-person reference on the part of the essayist. And no wonder it appears when evoking the conflict between father and son, the much revered poet, on stage in a play called Purgatory. Then the essayist turns story-teller as he recounts J. B. Yeatss death in a moving way not foreign to a famous fictitious picture, that of Dorian Gray.
The Yeatses were close to Oscar Wildes family as the first letter testifies. A smooth link is thus provided between introduction and first letter and the power of images mimicking the passage of time reasserted and debunked. Both life and picture have ceased their metamorphosis.
McGaherns comments on Yeatss letters underscore his preference for restraint and his interrogation of art and the Good, as well as the importance of dreams and memory as the necessary compost of affection:
The facts are always situated in a dream of becoming never in mere being (quote from JBY).
And affection springs straight out of memory:
In abolishing time and establishing memory the letters of J. B. Yeats go straight to the very heart of affection. 
In rhetoric expresses other peoples affection, poetry ones own, we find again what was expressed in the interview about the writer as beginner. The writer has to resort to technique up to a point. Poetry is the speech of a subject not something learnt from books. Creation is a need not an ornament. And the letters of J. B. Yeats are the closest one may come to a mans voice and his writing rhythm once he has gone the way of all flesh.
The reader called upon to join in the patrols of the imagination draws the cartography of a whole world in which McGaherns characters pass and pass again, tracing another map, that of the writers field, regularly marked by images. Another story, that of an imaginary field hovering above the fields and meadows of County Leitrim and Roscommon is being whispered over the lakes and trees and meadows. And still to leave the last world to the poet resting near Sligo under Queen Maeves grave: The grass blade carries the world on its point  The short story as a leaf of grass trembling in the writers field.