THE ATHEIST by Sean Mac Mathuna


and Other Stories
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 Irish writer MacMath£na makes his US debut with a story collection that tackles--with rueful satire--a place that has the ``climate for revolution, but not the weather.'' MacMath£na's passion is always under control, but the stories pulse with a sense of frustration and anger at the ways in which those Irish who want a more progressive country are continually thwarted by ancient superstitions, rigid religious beliefs, and a pervasive sense that nothing can or will improve. In ``Wedge,'' a character who accidentally kills his alcoholic and abusive father observes that ``Life is like a tragic drama on television. There are two ways to play it, backwards or forwards. I prefer backwards because that way you always finish with a happy beginning.'' Stories like the ``Queen of Killiney'' (a typically corrupt politician suddenly finds himself pregnant and has to go to England for an abortion), ``Prisoner of the Republic'' (the failure to change the divorce laws ends a long love affair), and ``Waiting for Dev'' (a village awaiting the famous leader De Valera realizes that it is no better off than it was under the British) are all concerned with overtly political themes. Two notable and especially poignant evocations of the Irish dilemma are the title story and ``The Banquet of Life.'' In the first, a committed atheist must deal with the grief of his young daughter at the death of her mother as relatives invoke all the old religious beliefs and superstitions. In the second, Brother Fergus--a teacher who believed that ``absolute obedience kept the soul from `getting notions' '' but who also liked figures, discovering how much he would earn in the outside world for the work he is doing--begins to construct an imaginary life in which he is no longer ``outlawed from the Banquet of Life.'' Some pieces here don't travel as well as others, and one or two are marred by obvious sentimentality, but mostly this is an accomplished debut.

Pub Date: May 12th, 1993
ISBN: 0-86327-103-0
Page count: 172pp
Publisher: Dufour
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1993