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
From Publishers Weekly
Irish writer Boylan is better known as a novelist (Beloved Stranger, etc.), but this collection of 38 short stories is a pleasing showcase for her quirky plotting and deceptively simple, smooth prose style. The shorter stories are more effective, most notably "My Son the Hero," in which a mother decides that her doltish adult son has committed a murder and takes matters into her own hands. "The Stolen Child" offers a series of musings on the nature of babies after a woman indulges her fascination with infants by briefly kidnapping the child of a woman with seven bratty, out-of-control kids. "The Little Madonna" takes a broader perspective on the issue of children, as an older woman offers a series of thought-provoking ruminations on how modern sexuality has affected child raising after she sees a tabloid story about the birth of a "perfect" baby girl. The longer stories are less consistent, as Boylan tends to rapidly change direction and pursue divergent narrative lines, losing control of her intriguing conceits. Her odd, conceptual approach to the art of the short story is something of an acquired taste, but these tales trace the development of her Patricia Highsmith-like tone and meticulous storytelling. Though her range is narrow, she is an appealing and idiosyncratic chronicler of the quirks and foibles of the Irish working class.
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