cover image ANTARCTICA


Claire Keegan, . . Grove/Atlantic Monthly, $24 (224pp) ISBN 978-0-87113-779-1

The chill reaches to the bones of this debut collection of 15 stories by Keegan, an acclaimed young Irish writer whose precisely articulated, clear prose illuminates her native land. In Keegan's Ireland, it is eternally winter, and familial relations provide neither appeasing warmth nor protection. Her mostly female narrators dwell on the cusp of self-knowledge; they have ruefully observed the example set by their mothers, aunts and grandmothers—"flat-bellied, temperamental women who've given up and call it happiness"—and are slowly feeling out new possibilities for their own lives. Rebellions range from the small and symbolic (a mother takes the wheel of a car and leaves her husband stranded) to the wider-reaching (a woman decides to keeps her illegitimate child). Such victories cannot keep the harshness of the world at bay and are of little help, for example, to the couple whose daughter is kidnapped. Yet Keegan depicts the ascendance of a generation of women who "can butt in and take over, rescue and be rescued" in an Ireland on the verge of a self-generated wave of feminism. The setting of several stories in the U.S. (where Keegan did her undergraduate work) is indicated only by a smattering of details such as baseball hats and fast food; they might as well, and with greater effect, have been set in Ireland. While Keegan's imagery occasionally bears the clear brand of the M.F.A. program, these moments are few and are outweighed by the restraint with which she deploys such imagery, and by her stern refusal to fall back on anything that might resemble a happy ending. (July)

Forecast:Keegan is a comer in Ireland, where she won both the William Trevor Prize and the Rooney Prize in 2000. A keen and unflinching observer, she will appeal to fans of Roddy Doyle.