Arthur Millar said that short stories were “ranked as casual things at the lower end of the scale of magnitude like bungalows in the architectural world.” If he had read any of Claire Keegan’s two previous collections of stories he would have reason to rue his description. When Keegan read at the Waterford Imagine Festival some years ago it was obvious she was a special talent. Her Walk the Blue Fields showed her strength and power and beautiful way with words.
Now, her publisher Faber and Faber have taken the unusual step of publishing Foster, a single short story that in a shorter version won the Davy Byrne’s Award and was published in The New Yorker. This is either a marvellous vote of confidence that they have the successor to Edna O’Brien or John McGahern or a marketing ploy to test the waters of fame.
Admittedly the book is 88 pages but it has generous print size and spacing and could have been brought down to about 40 ordinary pages.
However, Keegan is no ordinary writer and the simple narrative of a young girl taken by her father to live on a farm in Wexford with childless relatives while her mother delivers another sibling at home. It is the young girl who tells the story in her own words and we learn the gentle rhythms of another place and of the hurt and secrets and an extraordinary act of kindness and healing done in a place that seems at a remove from the pain and confusion of the world.
That confusion is part of the learning process as the reader leans as the young girl learns and by the end of the summer and the conclusion of the book I sat there with a soft tear in the edge of my eye for a redemptive kindness that healed both families and allowed a little girl to grow up in a changing unfolding world.