Riding a wave of rediscovery, long-time New Yorker writer Brennan (The Rose Garden, 1999, etc.) has been no more highly touted than now, seven years after her death at age 76. This novella, though, dating from the ’40s and found in a university archive, will not add measurably to her reputation.
In the cold heart of Dublin’s fair city dwells Anastasia King’s paternal grandmother, whom she has come to live with after her mother’s death in Paris. But Anastasia finds her visit to Ireland a chilling one, and it’s not because of the damp weather. Her mother had taken her and run away from her father years before, leaving him to plead for their return to no avail, and then to die. Grandmother has neither forgotten nor forgiven, even though Anastasia was only 16 then; now, at 22, she’s devastated by the news that she’s not welcome as a permanent guest in the house where she lived as a child. She tries to soften Grandmother’s heart, going to Midnight Mass on Christmas and spending freely on presents for both the old woman and her long-time housekeeper, whom she knew from before, but whatever tenderness she imagines quickly turns to stone when Anastasia suggests that her mother be brought back from Paris and buried next to her father. When she flees to a church to console herself, she’s booted out for not having a hat on, and from there it’s only a matter of time before she’s packing her bags again. In the end she shows that she’s her mother’s daughter after all, but there’s little comfort to be derived from her small acts of defiance.
Grim and measured, sure of its emotional power, this is certainly evidence of Brennan’s great gift, but the story’s too slight to stand alone.