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Kiely's novels, especially Nothing Happens in Carmincross (1985), have won him plaudits on this side of the Atlantic. But it's the Irishman's short fiction, magnificently represented in this new collection of ten stories, that guarantees him a place among the best of modern writers, and not just those from Ireland. Mournful for time passing, and given weight by the burdens of history, Kiely's stories celebrate the past for its relevance to the present--a world of sex and politics familiar to a people ""breastfed on legends and wonders."" The slick ""Mock Battle"" finds a husband and wife from Dublin, urban sophisticates both, at a re-creation of a 1690 battle between the Orange and Green--a conflict that resonates for contemporary Ireland, and that provides a correlative for the couple's marital strife. In the title piece, the lengthiest here, a group of journalists wreak havoc on a small town where they've come to cover a controversial play performance; their rollicking adventures merge literary and everyday reality, and provide ""a genuine slice, or bottle, of old Ireland."" This ""curious"" and ""romantic"" country comes to New York in ""The Python,"" when an Irish exile accompanies a journalist from the old country, and a trio of southern belles, to witness an old Gaelic sport being played up in the Bronx. Another lament for lost innocence is the strangely lustful ""Secondary Top,"" an account of two school inspectors investigating charges against a secondary-school teacher whose sexual indiscretion with teen-age students seems to bring out the barely repressed lechery of the inquisitors. Likewise, ""Your Left Foot is Crazy"" mixes memory and desire in its recollection of a dance class attended by the narrator at his shy friend's insistence--a class where the former meets a red-headed beauty whose life is cut short by tragedy. The complex tie of man to land is best exemplified in ""A Walk in the Wheat,"" a story of an ÉmigrÉ's ""long-thwarted passion for the lost thing of his own,"" an estate passed on to a stepbrother through arcane settlement law. These lyrical, culturally literate tales suggest an imagination brimming with poetry, lore, and even the ""hoary old jokes.

Pub Date: May 25th, 1988
Publisher: Godine