A FANATIC HEART: Selected Stories by Edna O'Brien

A FANATIC HEART: Selected Stories

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Sixteen of the stories in this generous (480-page) selection have been US-published before--in the collections A Rose in the Heart (1979), A Scandalous Woman (1974), and The Love Object (1969). But Returning, a nine-story collection published in Britain in 1981, appears here for the first time, and in full. As the title suggests, these are autobiographical pieces, full of nostalgia and regret, that return to O'Brien's Irish childhood and youth--most of them more like memoir than fiction, many of them reiterating an older-but-wiser theme: ""Only one thing was uppermost in me and it was flight, and in my fancies I had no idea that no matter how distant the flight or how high I soared, those people were entrenched in me."" O'Brien recalls her ambivalent affection for her mother, heightened by annual separations--staying just a few miles away at her grandmother's house. (""I thought how much I needed to be without her so that I could think of her, dwell on her, and fashion her into the perfect person that she clearly was not."") In ""The Connor Girls,"" the doomed inter-religious romance of a posh neighborgirl is juxtaposed with O'Brien's own later marriage outside the fold. (""By such choices we gradually become exiles, until at last we are quite alone."") Likewise, ""Savages"" is a portrait of odd, older Mabel--who goes far away from home, then returns with some initial glamour, but remains an outsider ever after, propelled into bizarre, attention-getting behavior. And, along with recollections of the first kiss from a boy and the first crush on a nun/teacher, there are sketches of memorable village characters: three women who ""represent defiance, glamour, and a kind of innocence that I miss in my later world""; the hapless ""Tough Men"" in shop back-rooms, with doomed get-rich schemes; and, most affectingly, ""The Bachelor""--a lonely family friend whose passions are timidly turned on O'Brien's mother, then on Edna herself. (""In him I saw a glimpse of my future exiled self."") Also new, if much less impressive: four connected short pieces, published in The New Yorker 1979-81, about a woman in love with a married man--waiting for his phone call (""Oh, God, let it be him""), meeting his wife, and forever wondering ""how much longer I shall be able to endure it."" Here, and in some of the reprinted stories, O'Brien's earnest, heart-pumping style is self-indulgent, unaffecting; elsewhere, however, when her ""fanatic heart"" confronts specific, rough-edged situations (like the tribal homestead in Returning), she can be passionate without being sloppy, intense without being merely theatrical. An uneven gathering, then-but sure to delight O'Brien fans with its mix of old favorites (e.g., ""Mrs. Reinhardt"") and new, openly autobiographical material.

Pub Date: Nov. 23rd, 1984
ISBN: 0374531099
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux