Eleven stories by different authors, all set in a modern Ireland poised uncomfortably between traditional certainties and contemporary hopes.
Although the “Celtic Tiger” seems to have lost its fangs in the past few years, Ireland’s astonishing economic growth of the last decade has transformed the country for keeps—and not all are happy with the changes. Walsh has brought together young (or youngish) voices here to illustrate the distance traveled from the old sod to the new. Some are frankly nostalgic: Claire Keegan’s “Night of the Quicken Trees” describes the touching courtship of a classic Irish bachelor farmer (he lets his goat sleep on his bed) and a wild, haunted woman who is a skilled healer (toads figure prominently in many of her remedies). Other pieces are more wistful: Tom Humphries’ “Australia Day” watches, through the eyes of an alienated pub owner, the gradual transformation of a ramshackle country village into a glitzy tourist trap (“I couldn’t draw you a map of where is where anymore”), while Aidan Matthews’s “Barber-Surgeons” follows the transformations of the 1960s from the perspective of a lonely small-town barber whose experience of the larger world is limited to his conversations with his customers. Some of the portrayals are downright hostile: The bohemian Dublin yobs of Sean O’Reilly’s “Playboy” are nihilistic thugs of the Graham Swift/James Kellman stripe, while the hotshot businessman of Keith Ridgeway’s “Grid Work” is little more than a well-paid zombie. The best piece is “It’s a Miracle,” by Eilis Ni Dhuibhne: Quietly powerful (somewhat in the style of William Trevor), it concerns the shadowy, emotionally isolated life of a divorced librarian whose life is almost changed by a chance meeting with an unhappy Italian in a Vienna restaurant.
Some nice shades of green but not much of a palette: Celtophiles will find plenty of sustenance here, but for most others it will be about as tasty as a plate of boiled potatoes and cabbage.