I really enjoyed this collection . Afterwards some stories resided in my mind better and longer than others, but what isn't diminished is the strength of Keegan's writing, her keen eye for the timelessness of the situations people find themselves in.
See this 2022 review of her
(1) The Long and Painful Death - I wondered if this would be a story about someone dying gruesomely or from a lingering disease. I considered missing this first story in the collection but I dived in and urge you to do the same. A young writer has just arrived in residence at Henrich Boll's house, her first day is interrupted by the arrival of a German professor wishing to see the house. Only after he leaves can she write.
(On the edge of the village of Dugort, on Achill Island, on Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way, is Heinrich Böll Cottage (http://heinrichboellcottage.com/) . Once belonging to Nobel Prize-winning novelist Heinrich Böll, the cottage offers fortnightly residencies to writers and artists, providing time and space for you to work. https://halekatie.com/2021/10/24/resi... )
(2) The Parting Gift - young woman leaves abusive family.
(3) Walk the Blue Fields - a story of weddings - a young woman's ( with doubts about the future success of this bond) , a priest's with God ( this bond is struggling) , a Chineseman's with healing massage ( the successful bond), and a bond between two of them broken because of another bond - "two people hardly ever want the same thing at any given point in life. It is sometimes the hardest part of being human".
I really liked this story, it is one of those short stories with many layers and much depth that can successfully translate to the big screen, like Proulx's Brokeback Mountain did.
(4) Dark Horses - In the bar in rural Ireland they drown their sorrows and place their bets. It may be Norris who has "drunk two farms" but it is Brady who is the dark horse. He is a man who Leyden, who needs help shoeing his own horses, "didn't think you had it in you" and whose dreams are filled with their presence and their owner "the finest woman (who) ever came around these parts" whom he lost over his drunken behaviour.
Keegan once again masterfully creates ber characters, their lives and situations. Her dialog is spot on.
(5) The Forester's Daughter - Story of a farming family, the Devlins, the father "with his 'three teenagers, the milking and the mortgage", the daughter's heartbreak over a dog, the mother's over how her life turned out. Long buried secrets emerge one evening as the mother tells her neighbours a less than adequately disguised story.
The longest story in this collection it feels well rounded, complete and once again would make a terrific movie drama.
(6) Close to the Water's Edge - This story is not based in Ireland, instead we are with a young man, a student, celebrating his 21st with his mother and her millionaire husband. We know little or the young man other than what happens that evening, we are told his mother's mother's back story but the story leaves so much unsaid, untold. It leaves us readers to decipher both the gaps and the ending. Was this Keegan's intention? There is a poignant motif that is repeated like the tides in the story.
The grandmother who needed her first sight of the sea before settling down yet she "with only an hour to spend (on the coast) , would not get into the water, even though she was a strong river swimmer " because "she had no idea how deep it was" instead "she jumped into the road and stopped (her husband's) car. Then she climbed in and spent the rest of her life with a man who would have gone home without her"
How is his experience swimming in the sea going to effect his life? Will he change his flight and leave? Or will he confront the bigoted millionaire? The story does not tell.
(7) Surrender (after McGahern) The afternote in Keegan's book says this story was inspired by an incident recollected in John McGahern's Memoir concerning his father who sat on a bench in Galway and ate 24 oranges before he married. Keegan transposes this onto a police sergeant .
(8) Night of the Quicken Trees - back to the folk, folklore and superstitions of rural Ireland, this time in a highly comical story of mid-life singleton Margaret Flusk and her bachelor neighbour, whom we only know as Stack. There's the usual child out of wedlock, the fortune teller, the gossips rooted in the place, in the land, steeped in traditional ways , superstitions , faith and its consequences. But there is also a deft comic touch in the language,the dialog and scenes. Josephine the goat "who had the run of the house" is just hilarious. It is a mixture of the mundane aspects of life, the dreams fired by folklore, and all the way things can pivot, whether that is between love and faith, between hope and despair, between healing and hatred. All perhaps with Josephine having the last laugh. What a way to end a collection. Brilliant.