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THERE IS HAPPINESS

NEW AND SELECTED STORIES

Strange, wondrous, luminous—a lovely coda to a career (and a life) cut sadly short.

From an American original, a posthumous collection that includes short stories old and new.

Watson’s stories—those in the volumes published in his lifetime and the new ones—are wry, tender, darkly funny, and deeply idiosyncratic. His first book, Last Days of the Dog-Men (1996), focused on dogs—always simply themselves, and therefore enviable and admirable—and often inhabited their bodies, channeled their voices. In one story here, “The Zookeeper and the Leopard,” Watson’s animism goes yet further; a zookeeper’s miscalculated revenge against a rival results in his being eaten by a big cat...and by story’s end his consciousness has been scattered among piles of scat that carry—poignantly, if you can believe it—what remains of his voice. In the terrific introduction here, Joy Williams speaks of the “strange, piteous, futile, and fickle” characters—often thwarted men self-exiled from their families—who people Watson’s world, and the kinships between his work and hers come clear. There’s the attentiveness to animals and the conviction—which never seems mean-spirited—that they’re superior to people; there’s the strong, often elegiac sense of the natural world. But perhaps the strongest link is an imaginative fearlessness that seems, finally, doglike: Both Watson and Williams exemplify Watson’s remark that a dog “is who he is and his only task is to assert this.” The stories in Watson’s two earlier collections were excellent, lyrical, moving (see the title pieces, “Last Days of the Dog-Men” and the doomed-young-love story “Aliens in the Prime of Their Lives,” both included here), but the new work seems even deeper, stranger, riskier. The title piece is surely the sweetest, gentlest story ever to center on the dialogue (yes, dialogue) between a serial killer and the wig stand that she’s covered with grim bodily trophies of her kills and named Elizabeth Bob. “Noon,” about the loneliness and emptiness that can enter a marriage post-stillbirth, ends with a dream in which the grieving woman, who is so delicately entwined with a catfish that her husband cannot, even with his best filleting knife, “detach the fish’s brain from her own,” dies. Her husband buries her in the yard, and over time, as she “drift[s] into the soil,” she keeps an eye on him. “The times between mowings were ages,” it concludes—a Watsonian happy ending.

Strange, wondrous, luminous—a lovely coda to a career (and a life) cut sadly short.

Pub Date: July 16, 2024

ISBN: 9781324076421

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 4, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2024

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LONG ISLAND

A moving portrait of rueful middle age and the failure to connect.

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An acclaimed novelist revisits the central characters of his best-known work.

At the end of Brooklyn (2009), Eilis Lacey departed Ireland for the second and final time—headed back to New York and the Italian American husband she had secretly married after first traveling there for work. In her hometown of Enniscorthy, she left behind Jim Farrell, a young man she’d fallen in love with during her visit, and the inevitable gossip about her conduct. Tóibín’s 11th novel introduces readers to Eilis 20 years later, in 1976, still married to Tony Fiorello and living in the titular suburbia with their two teenage children. But Eilis’ seemingly placid existence is disturbed when a stranger confronts her, accusing Tony of having an affair with his wife—now pregnant—and threatening to leave the baby on their doorstep. “She’d known men like this in Ireland,” Tóibín writes. “Should one of them discover that their wife had been unfaithful and was pregnant as a result, they would not have the baby in the house.” This shock sends Eilis back to Enniscorthy for a visit—or perhaps a longer stay. (Eilis’ motives are as inscrutable as ever, even to herself.) She finds the never-married Jim managing his late father’s pub; unbeknownst to Eilis (and the town), he’s become involved with her widowed friend Nancy, who struggles to maintain the family chip shop. Eilis herself appears different to her old friends: “Something had happened to her in America,” Nancy concludes. Although the novel begins with a soap-operatic confrontation—and ends with a dramatic denouement, as Eilis’ fate is determined in a plot twist worthy of Edith Wharton—the author is a master of quiet, restrained prose, calmly observing the mores and mindsets of provincial Ireland, not much changed from the 1950s.

A moving portrait of rueful middle age and the failure to connect.

Pub Date: May 7, 2024

ISBN: 9781476785110

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2024

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THE MAN WHO LIVED UNDERGROUND

A welcome literary resurrection that deserves a place alongside Wright’s best-known work.

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A falsely accused Black man goes into hiding in this masterful novella by Wright (1908-1960), finally published in full.

Written in 1941 and '42, between Wright’s classics Native Son and Black Boy, this short novel concerns Fred Daniels, a modest laborer who’s arrested by police officers and bullied into signing a false confession that he killed the residents of a house near where he was working. In a brief unsupervised moment, he escapes through a manhole and goes into hiding in a sewer. A series of allegorical, surrealistic set pieces ensues as Fred explores the nether reaches of a church, a real estate firm, and a jewelry store. Each stop is an opportunity for Wright to explore themes of hope, greed, and exploitation; the real estate firm, Wright notes, “collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in rent from poor colored folks.” But Fred’s deepening existential crisis and growing distance from society keep the scenes from feeling like potted commentaries. As he wallpapers his underground warren with cash, mocking and invalidating the currency, he registers a surrealistic but engrossing protest against divisive social norms. The novel, rejected by Wright’s publisher, has only appeared as a substantially truncated short story until now, without the opening setup and with a different ending. Wright's take on racial injustice seems to have unsettled his publisher: A note reveals that an editor found reading about Fred’s treatment by the police “unbearable.” That may explain why Wright, in an essay included here, says its focus on race is “rather muted,” emphasizing broader existential themes. Regardless, as an afterword by Wright’s grandson Malcolm attests, the story now serves as an allegory both of Wright (he moved to France, an “exile beyond the reach of Jim Crow and American bigotry”) and American life. Today, it resonates deeply as a story about race and the struggle to envision a different, better world.

A welcome literary resurrection that deserves a place alongside Wright’s best-known work.

Pub Date: April 20, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-59853-676-8

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Library of America

Review Posted Online: March 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2021

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