Six racy, colorful stories from award-winning Irish poet and playwright Mathews that plunge gloriously into the psyches of precocious children, aging single women, and flinty old priests— and through to the bedrock of the human condition beneath. A boy travels from his home in Ireland to Germany, full of visions of Jews being transported along the rails to the death camps, but finds an unimagined use for a piece of track when he arrives (``Train Tracks''). A family holiday on the Riviera takes a bizarre twist when an old acquaintance of the father befriends the curious, impressionable son (``Elephant Bread and the Last Battle''). In failing health, a withered but alert priest is given the hope of doing a final christening when a young family approaches him, until his confession of a previous bout with madness puts them off—except for the couple's daughter, who asks him to baptize her tortoise and in front of whom he dies (``Moonlight the Chambermaid''). Most probing of all here is the title story, which chronicles a plucky middle-aged schoolteacher's discovery of long-awaited romance with a dashing gynecologist, and her devastation when her lover is killed after their only night together. A lyrical, offbeat debut—tainted at times by clichÇs and stereotyping—but generally full of wit and a profound understanding of the darker ironies of life.
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