Drawn from three previous volumes, these 38 stories written over two decades by Irish author Boylan (Beloved Stranger, 2001, etc.) include “Housekeeper’s Cut,” a town-mouse/country-mouse variation in which town-mouse Edward has an affair with country-mouse Susan. But when she then comes to the city for a visit, predictable tensions arise: Will the injured, symbolic bird they find die or fly away? “Life on Mars” is an odd tale about a woman whose widowhood is compounded first by ghosts, then by the insipid occupants of flying saucers. Equally odd is “The Little Madonna,” the rant of a woman fed up with the world as she reads through a newspaper filled with stories of lost children. An opposite motif works in the final piece, “A Model Daughter.” A divorcée fabricates a daughter in order to get checks from the unwitting father, and the imaginary daughter is well into womanhood before the father finally demands to meet her, which, naturally, means that our divorcée must hire a call girl to act the part, and we shouldn’t be surprised if the scene that ensues comes to resemble a sitcom.
Prolific, flexible, and unquestionably talented, but Boylan doesn’t aspire to much. Her own introduction says it best: “In my short stories, dreams are fragile gladiators in an arena of hoary old lions of reality.”