Saturday, June 4, 2022

Review: Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan

Sometimes the smallest books pack the biggest wallop. Claire Keegan's brief novella Small Things Like These might be tiny but it has no less impact for that thanks to Keegan's amazing, intentional use of language and the heartfelt, devastating plot.

In a small Irish town in 1985, where the economic devastation is great, Bill Furlong delivers coal, timber, and peat to customers trying desperately to weather both the economy and a bitterly cold winter. The illegitimate son of a young maid whose kindly employer kept her on during and after her pregnancy and then helped young Bill after his mother's early death, Bill is married with five daughters. He is a generous and compassionate man, helping his struggling neighbors out as much as he can. He reflects on his own life and how others made a difference for him, wondering what it has all meant. Near to Christmas, Bill is delivering to the local convent when he comes across a young woman locked in the freezing cold coal shed, a surprising and disturbing discovery that will weigh on this goodhearted, world weary man.

Reading this deceptively simple novella feels like walking through a snowstorm, fat flakes coming down all around muffling and muting the rest of the world. It was simultaneously gorgeous because of the writing and an appalling look at the head in the sand complicity of the town, indeed of Bill's own wife, in ignoring the horrible truth of the goings on at the convent's so called training school, in reality a Magdalen laundry. Keegan's tale is a thoughtful and reflective, slightly melancholic morality story devastating in its restraint, quiet and unadorned and skillful. And it will stay with the reader long after the last page is turned.

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