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.
Hear an excerpt from The Flying Cutterbucks Audio Book Here!
Decades ago, Trudy, Georgia, and Aunt Star formed a code of silence to protect each other from an abusive man who terrorized their family. One act of solidarity long ago lives with them still. With the election of a president who brags about groping women without their consent, old wounds and deep secrets come alive again, forcing hard truths to be told and even harder truths to be left to the dead.
On the outskirts of Pardon, New Mexico, Trudy returns to her mother, Jewel, to navigate an old house filled with haunting mementos of her father who went missing in action over North Vietnam. As she helps her mother sift through the memories and finally lay her father to rest, Trudy will do her own soul searching to say goodbye to the dead, and find her way along with the other women in her family, and through the next election.
Audio Book Press Release:
New Mexico Natives, Kathleen M. Rodgers (nee Doran) and F. Michelle Williams, have collaborated to produce an audio version of Ms. Rodgers’ fourth novel, The Flying Cutterbucks, set against the backdrop of New Mexico and the 2016-2020 presidential elections. The two Clovis Wildcats met as young writers on Clovis High School’s newspaper, The Purple Press, in 1975. Their friendship has remained more than 40 years later even though their individual paths took them away from eastern New Mexico. Ms. Rodgers is an award-winning author of four novels. Her accolades include 2021 Pulpwood Queens Book Club Pick, 2021 Somerset Contemporary Fiction Finalist, 2020 Military Writers Society of America (MWSA) Founder’s Award, 2020 MWSA Writer of the Year Finalist, and 2019 MWSA Writer of the Year Finalist. She was inducted into the Clovis High School Hall of Honor in 2017 by the Clovis Municipal School Foundation. In addition to The Flying Cutterbucks, Ms. Rodgers has authored three other novels: The Final Salute, Johnnie Come Lately, and Seven Wings to Glory. The Flying Cutterbucks is set in the fictional eastern New Mexico town of Pardon. Those familiar with Clovis landmarks and traditions will recognize them throughout the novel. The author also gives a nod to her personal family history through her references to La Castenada in Las Vegas, NM where her grandmother, Olga Berg Lamb, worked as a Harvey Girl from 1928-1930. New York Times bestselling author Kathleen Kent describes the story as “A rousing timely novel of hope and solidarity among women in a family wounded by the tragedy of war and the trauma of sexual assault.” The Flying Cutterbucks was released in print in June 2020 and is represented by Diane Nine, President of Nine Speakers, Inc. Ms. Williams’ began a media career as an announcer at Norman Petty stations KWKA and KTQM in 1974. She took a detour after graduating from NMSU to work in the legal field including a stint at the NM Court of Appeals followed by a twenty plus year career with the Health Law Section of the University of New Mexico Office of University Counsel. Unable to “do retirement well,” Ms. Williams decided to return to her media roots after retiring from UNM in January 2021. She launched FM Williams Voiceover Talent, LLC. The two friends reconnected after a Facebook post announcing Williams’ recent audiobook narrations earlier this year and joined forces to produce the audiobook version of The Flying Cutterbucks which will be released on June 29, 2021 from Skyboat Media.
Th Flying Cutterbucks is available from June 29 through Audible!
I can’t say I didn’t see it coming. Now that my book, ‘’Dancing to Irish Reel” is out, I’m being asked the inevitable question, “How much of the story is true?” Everyone who knows me personally knows I picked up and moved to the west coast of Ireland without much of a plan, and that I stayed for a year. Add that to the fact that the book is written in the first person, that the narrator’s interior monologues in the story are unabashedly confessional to the point of unnecessary risk. I’ve been told the book reads like a memoir, and for that, I can only say I’m glad because this was my intention. I can see why readers might think the entire story is true.
But writers make a choice in how to lay out a story, and in my case, I wrote the book based on the kind of books I like to read. I’m a one-trick pony kind of a reader. I want an intimate narrator’s voice with which I can connect. I want to know exactly whom I’m listening to, so that I can align with a premise that makes the story’s swinging pendulum of cause and effect plausible. The way I see it, there are always bread crumbs along the path to the chaotic predicaments people find themselves in, and although many are blind to their own contributions, when I read a book, I want to be the one who divines how the character got there.
What fascinates me about people are their backstories. Oh, people will tell you their highlights, but they rarely reveal their churning cauldron of attendant emotions; they rarely confess to carrying acquired fears. We all want to appear bigger than our own confusion, and the key word here is “appear,” because when it comes to faces, most people like to save theirs. This is the point I wanted to make in the story, but I also wanted “Dancing to an Irish Reel,” to be about discovery, so I started with a narrator who is a fish out of water: a twenty-five year old American ensconced in a specific culture she uncovers like the dance of seven veils. In the midst of this there enters an Irish traditional musician named Liam Hennessey. He is from the region, of the region, and therefore it can only be said he is because of the region in a way that is emblematic. From a writer’s point of view, the supposition offers the gift of built-in conflict, most poignantly being the clash of the male-female dynamic set upon the stage of differing cultures trying to find a bridge. And I can think of no better culture clash than America and Ireland. I say this because I happen to know to the Irish, we Americans are a bit brazen, that we have the annoying habit of being direct. But the Irish are a discreet lot, culled from a set of delicate social manners that seem to dance around everything, leaving an American such as me with much guesswork.
No matter how they shake it, writers write about what they know, even if it has to be extracted from varying quadrants that have no good reason for being congealed. “Dancing to an Irish Reel” is a good example of this: it came to me as a strategy for commenting on the complexities of human beings inherent longing to connect—the way we do and say things that are at variance with how we really feel, in the interest of appearances, and how this quandary sometimes dictates how we handle opportunities in life. In my opinion, there is no better playing field on which to illustrate this point than the arena of new found attraction. I’m convinced the ambiguity of new love is a universal experience, and since the universe is a big wide place, and since ‘”Dancing to an Irish Reel” has something to say about hope and fear and the uncertainty of attraction, it occurred to me that I might as well make my point set upon the verdant fields of Ireland because everything about the land fascinated me when I lived there, and I wanted to take any reader that would have me to the region I experienced as cacophonous and proud: that mysterious, constant, quirky, soul-infused island that lays in the middle of the Atlantic, covered in a blanket of green, misty velvet.
Excerpt from “Dancing to an Irish Reel”
The distance between Inverin and Clifden is approximately sixty kilometers. It’s a visually inspiring hour-long ride through undulating midlands with grass as soft as velvet, gray stone walls that split the landscape, and bubbling intermittent streams as you glide along a two-lane road that cuts through a terrain devoid of street markers, stop signs, or any other indication the area has been previously trodden. There is little suggestion of civilization anywhere in sight and it is a quiet, unobstructed journey through the heart of Connemara with nothing in store, save for the destination of Clifden.
Driving into Clifden, one is abruptly thrust into the center of a thriving village that hosts an annual, three-day music festival wherein every pub door is invitingly open with signs outside announcing which Irish traditional musicians will be playing within the standing-room-only venues. A rudimentary chalkboard sat on the sidewalk outside of Mannion’s Pub with “Welcome Liam Hennessey” sprawled across in large, eye-catching cursive.
I followed Liam into the middle of a waiting crowd, which parted ceremoniously as he made his way to the old man seated against the wall across from the bar. Wind-tossed and toothless, the man sat on a battered wooden chair, tuning a fiddle and nodding his greeting while Liam opened his accordion case and settled in beside him. When a flute player joined them, the crowd fell into an anticipatory hush, ready for the music to begin. I stationed myself in front of the bar, minding my own business, but that soon became short-lived.
“Are you here with Liam?” asked a middle-aged man who was standing too close to me.
“Yes.” I took a step back.
“She’s here with Liam,” the man announced, turning to the man beside him.
“Ah,” the second man gasped, “she is, so!”
“Where did you get that blond hair on your head?” The first man eyed me.
“I brought it with me from America,” I said.
“She’s from America!” The man turned to the other man, his eyes opened wide.
“America indeed!” The second man drew in his breath.
“All I want in the world is for me brother to come in and see me standing here talking to you,” said the first man. “I wouldn’t care if a pooka came for me after that. Will you have a pint? Get her a pint, Tom,” he directed.
“Tom, make that a half-pint,” I said, trying not to laugh. I looked over at an obviously amused Liam, who smiled and winked as if to say he knew what was happening.
I looked toward the door and noticed an unusually small woman walking in with what appeared to be members of her family due to their similarity in stature. I’d met her in Galway before: she was a musician named Deanna Rader who played guitar and sang anything from Irish traditional music to her own compositions. I’d heard her sing in her low, husky voice a few times before, and because she was a friend of Declan’s, I’d exchanged pleasantries with her a few times as well. From the looks of things, she was in Mannion’s with her father and two sisters. She came smiling to my side instantly.
“Well then, you’ve made your way out here now, have you?” She looked up at me.
“I came here with Liam,” I said, grateful to know someone in the crowd.
“I knew you must have. So, it’s the two of you now, is it?”
“Well, I don’t know if I’d put it that way,” I said, diverting the implication. I couldn’t recall if I’d seen Deanna while I was out with Liam, or if she asked this because she’d heard people talking.
“You’re a long way from home yourself,” I said. “Is this festival a big deal?”
“Oh God, yes. People look forward every year. Luckily my parents live in Letterfrack, just up the road. I’ve been spending the last couple of nights with them. We’ve all come ’round tonight for the craic.”
“Well, it’s nice to know someone here,” I said.
“My sister came out to sing tonight. Would you mind asking Liam if she could give us a song?”
“Sure,” I said. “I’ll ask him when they take a break.”
“They probably won’t do that, so you’d be waiting for ages,” Deanna said. “You’ll just have to lean over and ask, like.”
“When?” I asked.
“How about now?” she said.
“If it wouldn’t be too much trouble,” she smiled sweetly.
I looked over at the musicians, who were in full swing. There was no way I was going to butt in, even though Deanna kept standing there looking up at me expectantly. Just then, a man at the bar stepped forward enthusiastically. He leaned into the musicians circle, grabbed Liam by the arm, and shouted loudly, “The young lady here wants to give us a song.” With that, the music came to a screeching halt, and a whirlwind of preparation commenced. Liam leaned over and whispered to the two musicians beside him, instruments were set down, a microphone was raised, a path spontaneously cleared, and into the arena stepped Deanna’s sister. It was like the infamous scene of Marilyn Monroe singing “Happy Birthday” to President Kennedy.
There was a hush in the room as all eyes riveted upon the girl. She stood all of five foot two, but within that minuscule framework there was a lot going on: thick, raven hair fell in loose waves across her forehead and down her back. Large green oval eyes slanted and squinted catlike beneath thick, dark lashes. Turn by turn, her eyes focused and held one man in the room after another. She stood with her right hand on her hip and her voluptuous weight shifted to the left. With great histrionics, she crooned out a song in the Irish language I’d never heard before.
When she finally stopped, she sashayed over to Liam, totally aware everybody was watching. With grand theatrics, she threw both her arms around his neck and kissed him square on the mouth, nearly knocking him over with her forward advance. All hands in the room clapped loudly, wolf whistles erupted, and a few eyes turned my way.
“I imagine you’d have something to say about this passionate display,” said Deanna’s father, who had materialized beside me.
“Not really,” I said. “Do you?”
“You have to watch that one is all. She’ll be the death of me one day, he said, cocking his head toward her.
“I hope not,” I said.
“No harm done then?”
“No harm at all,” I said.
Dancing to an Irish Reel is available where books are sold!