Now and again when life gets too busy, I like to revisit the calm of a good short story or two, beautifully crafted and plotted. It’s a form I admire greatly, one that at its best honours small moments in life that we might otherwise overlook. The Irish writer Claire Keegan is one of the finest short story writers, and having read her second collection once before, I can say that it’s worth a return visit. Walk The Blue Fields is stunning; every story earns its keep and makes for writing that bonds the reader to her characters for the short time they’re with us.
Keegan isn’t well known on this side of the pond, but she’s an award-winning writer in Ireland, a worthy heir to the great William Trevor. She writes with the same loving attention to detail as she creates a character or evokes a place, and she shares with Trevor a depth of compassion and clear-eyed insight into the human condition.
Almost all of these stories are set in the rural Ireland of modern times, in a country that’s undergone rapid change. Some gain power through Keegan’s use of point of view. “The Parting Gift” is told in the second person, the narrator communing with herself. It’s a perfect container for the claustrophobia felt by a young woman about to leave her rural home for New York. She’s desperate to escape parents whose sexual disturbance manages, in our shock-proof age, to shock us with the quiet detachment of Keegan’s description. The title story, “Walk the Blue Fields,” is told from the point of view of a priest about to perform a marriage ceremony. There’s great unease in the details he observes: the bride’s hand shaking as she lifts the pen to sign the marriage certificate, the bouquet trembling in her hand. One telling detail after another reveals the story of the priest’s affair, his decision not to marry this woman, and his overwhelming moment of regret. And I’d be amiss not to mention the opening story, “The Long and Painful Death.” This one offers a choice glimpse into the mind of a fiction writer awarded a stay at a seaside working residence — along with an annoying visitor who becomes fodder for her next work of fiction (The story’s title provides a nice clue).
This is a wonderful, beautifully crafted book. If you’re looking for a few quiet moments of insight, read one story a day, draw close to its characters and share Keegan’s wealth of insight into the human heart.
Walk The Blue Fields by Claire Keegan is published in Britain by Faber and Faber (2007) and in the U.S. by Black Cat (2008).