Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan

As it appears in The New York Journal of Books:

Reviewed by: Claire Fullerton

In 114 pages, author Claire Keegan delivers an odyssey of the soul in her gem of a novel, Small Things Like These, without leaving the setting of New Ross, beside the River Barrow.

It is 1985 Ireland, and coal and timber merchant Bill Furlong knows times are hard with Christmas coming. The married father of five girls, Furlong is a self-made man who comes from nothing, his deceased mother having lived with shame as an unwed mother who reared her child by being a domestic servant of the wealthy, Protestant Mrs. Wilson.

Furlong’s days feel mechanical for all their routine. “Lately, he had begun to wonder what mattered, apart from Eileen and the girls. He was touching forty but didn’t feel himself to be getting anywhere or making any headway and could not but sometimes wonder what the days were for.”

Just days before Christmas, Furlong keeps his employees at the yard while he makes deliveries to customers long loyal to his business. When a large order from the Good Shepherds Convent arrives, Furlong takes personal responsibility for delivery, but shudders with the recollection of the troubling time he’d last had on the grounds, when he was approached by a waif of a girl asking him to help her escape. The memory haunts Furlong, who recalls his wife’s response when he’d voiced his concerns over the place purported to be a training school for girls that also ran a laundry business.

Furlong knows well of the harsh rumors attached to the convent as a place for wayward girls, and author Claire Keegan, capturing the very bone marrow of Irish sensibility, writes of Eileen’s response to her husband’s worry: “She sat up rigid and said such things had nothing to do with them, and that there was nothing they could do, and didn’t those girls up there need a fire to warm themselves, like everyone?” The pragmatic Eileen continues, “If you want to get on with life, there’s things you have to ignore, so you can keep on.”

Furlong has conflicted feelings about his own childhood. Raised in his mother’s employers’ home, he knows had it not been for the sufferance of Mrs. Wilson, his life would be disadvantageously different. Feeling hit close to home, Furlong responds to his wife’s comments, “Isn’t it a good job Mrs. Wilson didn’t share your ideas? Where would my mother have gone? Where would I be now?”

Furlong’s Christmas delivery trip to the convent is fateful. While opening the latched storage shed to unload his coal, he discovers a young girl trapped within, and, when he takes issue with the nuns on the girl’s behalf, he suspects all is not as it seems. Being told one thing by Sister Carmel at the convent, his heart intuits a darker truth that rings in a similar tone to the plight of his mother, and in time, Furlong is inspired to act. “He found himself asking was there any point in being alive without helping one another?” Furlong wonders, “Was it possible that the best bit of him was shining forth, and surfacing?”

Spontaneously spurred to action to help the young girl, Furlong knows, “The worst was yet to come.” “But the worst that could have happened was also already behind him; the thing not done, which could have been—which he would have had to live with for the rest of his life.”  

Small Things Like These is a succinct, heart and soul story of a man coming to terms with a consciousness born of his personal narrative. In precise, unadorned language, it personalizes a once taboo subject recently come to the fore, and now considered a blight on Irish history.

All praise to author, Claire Keegan, for masterfully adding to her arsenal of widely acclaimed, human interest stories. Small Things Like These is a fathoms-deep, poignant novel that will appeal to fiction readers enamored of the sub-genre categories small town and rural fiction; holiday fiction; and family life.  

Author Claire Keegan

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Happy St. Patrick’s Day

​You’ll see in this photographs that I’m standing against a gray stone wall on a windswept day in the middle of an Irish field, with what are obviously the ruins of a monastery behind me.

Observant people might ask why the monastery is behind me, and I am holding a set of keys in my hand as if it were the bigger focal point. Here’s the story.

We kind of knew where we were heading, my friend Tama and I, and by this I mean we had a loose plan with regard to how we were going to spend the afternoon in Gort, Ireland. We’d been freewheeling across the countryside in a rented car the size of a match box, with its steering wheel on the right side, while we drove on the left of the two-lane road as if trying to best a test for dyslexia. Tama is a devout Catholic, who has a thing about historic churches, which is why we couldn’t have adhered to a plan had we had one. “Stop,” Tama would shout every time we spied one of the dim, ominous structures off in the distance. We’d scratch the gravel driveway and wander inside, our solitary footsteps crossing the marble floor in a tread- ye- lightly and humble yourself echo off the cavernous vaulted ceiling. We did this so many times that after yet another sweep inside a church, I’d take to wandering the halcyon graveyards to read the Irish tombstone inscriptions, while Tama would light a red votive candle and fall to her pious knees.

I thought I was alone in the yard when a voice came sailing from behind me. “Have you found your way to Kilmacduagh monastery?” it queried. I turned to find a young woman taking in my outlander attire of three quarter down jacket and rubber soled shoes. “It’s just up the road there,” she continued, pointing. “Just knock on the door of the middle house across the road and ask Lily for the keys.”

I was standing behind Tama when she knocked on the front door of a low slung house on a sparsely populated lane. Across the lane, placid fields of damp clover shimmered in the afternoon mist as far as the eye could see. On one verdant field, a series of interspersed ruins jutted in damp metal-gray; some without roofs, some with wrought-iron gates, and one in particular beside an impressively tall stone spire, which had two windows cut in vertical slashes above a narrow door raised high from the ground.

Immediately the front door opened, and a pair of blue water eyes gave us the once over with an inquisitive, “Yes?”​”Are you Lily? We’re here for the keys,” Tama said.​”The keys, is it? Just a moment there,” the woman said, and after closing the door, she opened it seconds later and handed us a set of long metal keys. “Just slip them through the door slot when you’re through,” she said, closing the door with a quick nod.I can’t say there was any indication of which key went to what, among the cluster of gates and doors throughout the 7th century monastery called Kilmacduagh, but we figured it out. I was so tickled over the keys that I couldn’t get over it. “Is this weird?” I said to Tama. “We could be anybody. It’s not that there’s anything anybody could steal, but that’s not the point.” I could wax rhapsody over the hours we spent unlocking gates and pushing through doors in the eerie, hallowed grounds, but that’s not my point either. My point is that’s Ireland for you: a stranger offering directions without being asked, Lily handing over the keys like an afterthought, and Tama and I trolling the grounds of sacred space when nobody else was around. But suddenly a German couple appeared as we were on our way back up the lane. They looked at us wide eyed and queried, “What is this place?”

“It’s a 7th century monastery,” I said, “here, take the keys and slip them through Lily’s door when you’re through.”

https://linktr.ee/cffullerton

March 14, Irish Parade on Facebook!

An unprecedented, live event will take place on Sunday, March 14 from 8:00 AM Eastern Standard Time on Facebook. 8 Book Pages will coordinate to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, and the idea is for attendees to join the group pages ahead of time then hop from page to page as events happen! You can see the Book Pages here, at the right of the image below.

I will have the great pleasure of being “in conversation” with my favorite author, Billy O’Callaghan, who hails from Douglas, County Cork, Ireland, and who is the author of 4 short story collections and 3 novels, his latest being the newly released, Life Sentences, which I loved!

The Irish Echo released the article below yesterday. Below the image is the actual link!

FB book clubs combine for virtual event | Arts & Leisure | Irish Echo

Here are some of the panelists who will appear during the all-day event. Come by and meet those of us with Irish connections!

There will be giveaways and a live Irish band playing on all book pages simultaneously!

I hope to see you there!

https://linktr.ee/cffullerton

Dancing to an Irish Reel

Thank you so much to Michelle James!

BOOK CHAT

By Claire Fullerton

Dancing to an Irish ReelBook Blurb

On sabbatical from her job in the LA record business, Hailey Crossan takes a trip to Ireland for the vacation of a lifetime. What she finds is a job offer too good to turn down.

But her life in Ireland comes with one complication—Liam Hennessey. He’s a famous Irish musician whose entire life revolves around performing, so when he meets Hailey, he is so unbalanced at the prospect of love that he can’t decide whether to come closer or run away.

And so begins the push and pull of Hailey and Liam’s attraction. It is a dance enriched by colorful Irish friends who help Hailey navigate her budding romance with Liam in a landscape with more charm and character than any place Hailey ever imagined.

Publisher: Vinspire Publishing

Publication date, March 6, 2015

Page count; 236

Genre: Fiction

ISBN-10: 0990304256

ISBN-13: 978-0990304258

My Review

Dancing to an Irish…

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