Irish author Keane turns his eye from the painful, pathologically blighted lives and worldly and spiritual poverty in villages he described in The Bodhran Makers (1992) and The Ram of God (1996) to far more friendly tales about life in rural Ireland. These 17 stocking-stuffers all turn on the Christmas season, and most move along faster than you can wring a chicken’s neck. We’ll lay a fat goose to a starving sparrow you’ve never heard of “The Sacred Calf”—not fatted, golden, or castrated, but sacred. This pregnant tale could well be called “The Sacred Bull” since it tells of what bulls do best—but this being Christmas, we’ll say no more. Fine writer that Keane is, both in his jollier and more cutting moods, he’s not of a mind to leave your head befogged with sin, or what these folk think is sin. It’s true, once Christmas passes, he can scathe and leave you hangdog. So that’s out now and we’re all the better for it. But let’s not be grim. He’s a man full of love, whatever the season.