A variable, posthumous collection of loosely linked short stories from the much cherished Irish writer who died in 2012.
Thirty-six tales of differing length, predictability and quality, generally focused on female characters—wives and mothers, partners, singletons, daughters and friends—make up this late addition to the Binchy oeuvre and explore domestic problems ranging from cranky relatives and problem children to unexpected attractions, and, most often, insensitive and/or faithless men. Binchy’s wise insights and wicked humor are visible now and then, for example in the cheerily sparring dialogue of “Fay’s New Uncle” and the teacher looking for mischief in “A Problem of My Own,” but too often there’s a sense of datedness, superficiality or simple fairy tale. Homilies are delivered often: about freedom in “Liberty Green,” about finding a real father figure in “A Card for Father’s Day,” about being over-organized in “Flowers from Grace.” Nevertheless, the author’s compassion extends widely, notably to the many cheated-upon wives, girlfriends and children, as in “Taxi Men Are Invisible,” when a driver finds himself observing an affair, or “Reasonable Access,” which views divorce from the confused child’s point of view, or “The Gift of Dignity,” one of the few longer, more emotionally complex stories, which contemplates, from a friend’s perspective, a silent wife’s possible collusion in her husband’s adultery. Chestnut Street itself, a semicircle of 30 small houses in Dublin, plays a minor but constant role, as safe harbor to the nurse, the window cleaner, the couples, families and loners and, in “Madame Magic”—a typically tidy offering—a substitute fortuneteller who turns Melly’s empty house into a busy home.
For Binchy aficionados, a late indulgence; for others, slim pickings.