MICHELE NORRIS, host: For many writers, a sense of place can be as important as their characters. In the short fiction of Claire Keegan, Ireland is itself a character that appears and reappears, providing a rich backdrop for her stories of love and loss.
Author Keith Donohue recommends Keegan's collection "Walk the Blue Fields" as part of our series You Must Read This, where authors talk about a book they love.
KEITH DONOHUE, AUTHOR: Ireland makes storytellers. Perhaps it is the land itself, isolated from the rest of Europe, bound by the sea, wet by the passing rains, so sparsely populated in places that the sheep outnumber the people. Or perhaps it is the fact that the native Irish language largely gave way to English - but an English bent to the Irish rhythm, the Irish sound.
You can hear the Irish sound in the writing of Claire Keegan, whose two collections of short stories have drawn comparisons to William Trevor and Anton Chekhov. She has given us two dozen or so gems - stories so magical and well-crafted that each feels as lasting and familiar as a favorite fairy tale or a wound to the heart. If I had to choose, I would press upon you "Walk the Blue Fields," her latest collection.
I once heard Claire Keegan read the title story, which is about a priest in a small Irish town who is presiding over a wedding. We learn early on that the priest had recently ended a clandestine affair with the bride. During the ceremony and at the reception he struggles not only with the loss of love but the meaning behind his faith and his vows.
For 20 minutes, as Claire Keegan read, she took us with the priest through the sacred and profane rites of a small town and took us out into the countryside to walk the blue fields alone, and encounter there an unexpected healer. Mesmerized, we fastened on her every word.
At the wedding dance, the bride's string of pearls breaks, scattering the pearls across the polished floor. Here, in a moment of intimacy, the priest scoops up a pearl and returns it to her.
When he places the pearl in her hand, she looked into his eyes, Keegan writes. There are tears there but she is too proud to blink and let one fall. If she blinked, he would take her away from this place. It's what she once wanted but two people hardly ever want the same thing at any given point in life. It is sometimes the hardest part of being human.
Layer by layer, Keegan crafts these stories out of small details and insight that, like poetry, tells us what we suspect we already knew. We only needed a story to tell us so. Claire Keegan is the real deal.
NORRIS: Keith Donohue's latest book is called "Centuries of June."