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THEBECKERWIVESANDOTHERSTORIES MARY LAVIN New Is­land, ¤11.95

Four long sto­ries com­prise this col­lec­tion from the inim­itable and gifted Mary Lavin. The ti­tle story satirises the foibles, pre­ten­sions and in­se­cu­ri­ties of a mid­dle-class fam­ily in a sub­stan­tial Ir­ish town, but the barbed hu­mour de­vel­ops into a dis­turb­ing in­sight into men­tal ill­ness by story’s end. In The Joy-Ride, two but­lers head off for a day out when their em­ployer goes away but their ab­sence ends in disas­ter for their place of em­ploy­ment and them­selves. A Happy Death tells of the dis­in­te­gra­tion of a once-happy mar­riage as youth­ful hopes give way to the dis­ap­point­ments of so­cial cir­cum­stances, mis­un­der­stand­ings and fail­ure to com­mu­ni­cate. Ma­genta is mainly an amus­ing story about two el­derly house­maids, care­tak­ers of a big house where they’ve lived so long that they feel and some­times be­have as if they own it, and a lo­cal girl who cleans for them who makes a dis­as­trous mis­take. Su­perb char­ac­ter cre­ation, won­der­fully de­scribed set­tings and lively di­a­logue char­ac­terise th­ese sto­ries of largely blighted, thwarted, dis­con­tented lives. The un­set­tling, un­pre­dictable story end­ings will en­dure long in the mem­ory.

BRIAN MAYE

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