'Life and Death and Other Stories'

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Matters of Life and Death and Other Stories, by Belfast writer Bernard MacLaverty, is a collection of stories examining the dangers of life.


No Belfast writer is ever far removed from the subject of violence in everyday life, including Bernard MacLaverty. His latest work is titled “Matters of Life and Death,” and Alan Cheuse has a review.

ALAN CHEUSE: The lead story in MacLaverty's new collection is called “On the Roundabout,” about an incident on a Belfast roadway after dark. In only four pages, MacLaverty creates the feeling of a world in which the borderline between tedium and terror becomes attenuated to the point almost of disappearing altogether.

In the rest of the stories, he looks at life in peacetime through the same prism, finding the flash points and violent extremities that make the simple life also quite dangerous.

Occasionally, this manifests itself as comedy, as in the wonderful “Trojan Sofa,” in which a Belfast boy named Nile, Nile Donnelly, sometimes my Da calls me Skinny Malink, undergoes his apprenticeship into a life of crime by allowing his Da and Uncle Amon to hide him inside a fancy piece of living room furniture sold to a high living Orangeman.

Most of the time, the tone in these stories is more straightforward, as the fictions focus on such matters as two boys recently orphaned who make their first steps toward adjusting to their new world of mourning and absence in the household of family friends. Or how to deal with the friction or surprising lack of it between Catholic and Protestant neighbors in a middle class Belfast suburb. Or the miseries of a woman sliding inexorably into Alzheimer's. Or the simple worries of a man going for a blood test to check for diabetes who brings along a copy of Chekhov stories to help him pass the time.

As it happens, Chekhov is MacLaverty's master. As his man in the diabetes clinic waiting room puts it, Chekhov draws you in. He writes as if the thing is happening in front of your eyes. So does Bernard MacLaverty.

SIEGEL: The book is “Matters of Life and Death and Other Stories” by Bernard MacLaverty. Our reviewer, Alan Cheuse, teaches writing at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

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