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.