THE ROSE GARDEN by Maeve Brennan


Short Stories
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An uneven but fascinating collection of 20 stories (dating from 1950—68): a welcome companion volume to 1997’s The Springs of Affection, which likewise showcased the work of the late (1916—93) New Yorker staff writer. Many of the pieces here previously appeared in Brennan’s In and Out of Never-Never Land (1969) and Christmas Eve (1974). All are uniformly limpid, precisely phrased glimpses of (mostly) Irish-American women imperfectly adapting to their new lives. In several related stories, set in “Herbert’s Retreat,” a posh Hudson River enclave north of New York City, Brennan bleakly observes the social maladroitness of Leona Harkey, a parvenu trying nervously to “fit in,” and the acidulous preciosity of her permanent guest-mentor, persnickety theater critic Charles Runyon (“Taffeta? Leona, how could you!—). Another group of stories records—quite convincingly—the —adventures,” and even the thoughts and dreams, of Bluebell, an aging Labrador retriever who inhabits a fabricated milieu that’s both old-moneyed exurbia and (it seems, literally) “never-never land.” But the real heart of the collection beats in five superb tales focused with Chekhovian concentration on “little” people vulnerable to both changing personal circumstances and the simple passage of time: the irascible “ladies’-room lady” (“The Holy Terror”) who outlives her usefulness, and takes a petty, ineffectual revenge on her tormentors; the country woman (of “The Beginning of a Long Story”) too “eternally unsure of herself” to accept her family’s unconditional love; the self-deluding “artistic” couple (“The Bohemians”) who render their dutiful son unfit for any life outside their own artificial orbit. Brennan had a real genius tor tracing the downward arcs followed by people who perversely throw away their best chances for happiness. Her finest stories resemble and rival the fiction of Frank O’Connor and Mary Lavin, and are well worth retrieving.

Pub Date: Jan. 17th, 2000
ISBN: 1-58243-050-0
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Counterpoint
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 1999


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