>I don’t know the work of the Irish writer Claire Keegan, but I like this story very much. Although the precise conflict isn’t immediately clear, from the first paragraph, questions arise. Why is the father driving the narrator to her “mother’s people” instead of taking her home? And where is the mother. As it turns out, the girl’s parents are strapped for money. One thing they have in abundance is children: the narrator, her two younger sisters, a baby brother, and another child on the way. Her “mother’s people” though are childless it seems, and there is plenty of food and money. So the narrator is coming to live, for the summer at least.
She’s uncertain at first, but then grows comfortable in the loving household. Until, that is, she discovers—from a nosy, loudmouthed neighbor—that her relatives had a boy who drowned. Which explains their nervousness about the well, and their enormous concern when the narrator does, in fact, fall in.
But the summer comes to an end and the narrator must go home to her family. And it seems she doesn’t want to. “When I finally open my eyes and look over his shoulder, it is my father I see, coming along strong and steady, his walking stick in his hand. I hold on as though I’ll drown if I let go . . .” While her father is her “Da,” this man is “Daddy” and she’s torn between the two.
Although I don’t love the ending—it’s a bit too sentimental for my tastes—the rest of the story is a charming glimpse into rural Ireland.
February 15 & 22, 2010: “Foster” by Claire Keegan
UPDATE: Anonymous alerted me to the fact that Keegan has a short novel coming out in July (in the UK, as it turns out, not in the US) called Foster. On examination, this appears to be a peculiar situation where the book is an expansion on the story, rather than the story being an excerpt from the novel. From the publisher, concerning the book:
A small girl is sent to live with foster parents on a farm in rural Ireland, without knowing when she will return home. In the strangers’ house, she finds a warmth and affection she has not known before and slowly begins to blossom in their care. And then a secret is revealed and suddenly, she realizes how fragile her idyll is. Winner of the Davy Byrnes Memorial Prize, “Foster” is now published in a revised and expanded version. Beautiful, sad and eerie, it is a story of astonishing emotional depth, showcasing Claire Keegan’s great accomplishment and talent.