The Collected Short Stories

The Irish short story writer Clare Boylan occupies much the same fictional territory as Fay Weldon: the place where ordinary occurrences like love affairs and motherhood and death take on the coloring of the extraordinary. The stories featured in Collected Stories range from 1978 to 2000, and the early ones are notable mostly for their sense of unease: "Housekeeper's Cut" is the tale of a cheating wife who's really just looking for a break from her role as wife and mom. Her expectations and her lover's misreading of them are treated with painful, unnerving clarity. Boylan's later stories are something else again: they strike an exacting balance between acerbic wit and tender compassion. Consider this passage from "Affairs in Order," about a philandering rogue: "He was a poet, and with the hair for it. In the plain stretches of life, women particularly remembered the buttery feel of his heavy gold hair." There's so much going on here: the gentle mockery of "with the hair for it," the sweetness of "the plain stretches of life," the understanding that a man can be loved, finally, for his hair. Boylan is also very good on madness: her crazy people have clear objectives (for instance, stealing a baby) and exquisite rationales. By the end of this superb, funny, delicate collection, you're hard-pressed to tell who is mad and who is sane, and it's a deliciously unmoored feeling. --Claire Dederer

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