Walking the Dog, and Other Stories: And Other Stories

Bernard MacLaverty, Author
Bernard MacLaverty, Author W. W. Norton & Company $20 (198p) ISBN 978-0-393-03758-6
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Again demonstrating his sure ear for ordinary speech, Irish writer MacLaverty (Cal) constructs his stories around conversations, adroitly creating eloquent characterizations and compelling drama. Some of the dialogue is exhanged in the uneventful context of daily life, such as an understated tea-time conflict between an adolescent and his pious grandparents (``Compensations'') or a middle-aged couple's holiday examination of their static relationship (``At the Beach''). Other stories are witness to moments in longer, more significant events: neighbors reflecting the Catholic-Protestant conflict (``The Wake House''); a mother and daughter trying to pass a rainy afternoon during the latter's long illness (``In Bed''); a series of boozy hospital visits that sum up a friendship (``Just Visiting''). Two tension-packed stories are standouts. In ``Silent Retreat,'' a Catholic schoolboy and a Protestant guard engage in theological discussions where the school's playing fields bump up against the walls of a prison. In the title story, a man kidnapped by terrorists while walking his dog finds his identity-and life-hinging on his correct pronunciation of the alphabet. Under the tone-perfect slang and the inflection of small talk are the visible outlines of these characters' buried lives, their moving connections and dislocations. Always one to deliver the unexpected, MacLaverty also intrudes his alter ego, referred to as ``your man,'' whose droll observations eerily animate the 10 short vignettes that alternate with the nine stories in this provocative collection. (Apr.)
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