An uneven collection by the prolific Binchy (Maeve’s Times, 2014, etc.).
In a foreword to these 36 tales, Gordon Snell notes that his wife, who died in 2012, “was always full of stories” that she typed “at breakneck speed.” This selection, he says, represents just part of her output, hinting that more volumes are to come, good news for readers who love Binchy’s take on familiar domestic dramas among women and their friends, lovers, husbands, children, and assorted relatives in contemporary Ireland. Marriage is a recurring theme: some women want to find a husband, which often happens when they least expect it; others want to hold onto the husband they have, such as Bella, who decides that if she just loses a lot of weight, “dramatically,” Jim will not marry his young lover, who she imagines is “a skinny little thing,” and she and Jim will live happily ever after. In the world Binchy gently recounts, men are always tempted, and women need to be on their guards. In “Big Decisions in Brussels,” Maura’s aunt advises her to read her handsome husband’s letters and “go through his pockets.” That strategy, Maura reflects, has enabled her “to head off some mild flirtations in the past” by arranging family diversions “when a little adventure was looming.” Even beautiful 28-year-old Laura knows she can’t trust her wealthy older husband, “the tycoon.” Any relationships—whether between spouses, friends, or family—are fragile; it’s better to keep silent and hide unhappiness, even from oneself. When the unmarried 30-somethings Miss McCarthy and Mr. Blake go out for dinner, “by no glance did they let the other know that this was something...[that] might become big.” Some stories are developed enough to impart quiet wisdom; others, though, are mere sketches, with one-dimensional characters and pat, trite resolutions.
The best reflect Binchy’s warmhearted sympathy for yearning and regret.