The Collected Stories

John McGahern, Author Knopf Publishing Group $24 (408p) ISBN 978-0-679-41913-6
McGahern is best known for his grim novels of Irish life, and readers of The Barracks, The Leavetaking and The Pornographer will immediately recognize his deft handiwork in these 35 stories. Operating fully within his country's vaunted short-story tradition (Frank O'Connor, Mary Lavin, et al.), McGahern meticulously builds prolonged moments of stasis, wherein accumulations of character and detail do not advance a story as much as deepen its roots. In the extraordinary ``Swallows,'' the stultifying Irish country life is brightened for a moment by a Dublin traveler who plays Paganini on a Stradivarius, only to find his hosts asking for a bit of ``Danny Boy.'' ``Doorways,'' a tale of unrequited love, is formally and thematically framed by the presence of Beckettian vagabonds who offer wry but silent commentary. Although McGahern returns again and again to the same themes--emotional repression, poverty of mind and spirit, the ever-salubrious effects of stout and whiskey--he does so with an impressive and sometimes surprising range of characters (a gay fondler in ``Lavin,'' a vulnerable translator of Chekhov and Mayakovsky in ``The Beginning of an Idea''). In the end, what distinguishes McGahern's work is not his cold assessment of life in Ireland, but his ability to fan dying embers into temporary glow. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 02/01/1993
Release date: 02/01/1993
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 416 pages - 978-0-679-74401-6
Hardcover - 432 pages - 978-0-571-31263-4
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