'So Late in the Day' review: Three nuanced short stories from Claire Keegan Book critic Maureen Corrigan says her only frustration with Keegan's work is that she wants more of it. So she was happy to read her nuanced, three-story collection, So Late in the Day.


Book Reviews

Claire Keegan's 'stories of women and men' explore what goes wrong between them

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This is FRESH AIR. Critics and fellow writers have used terms like one of the greatest and perfect to refer to Claire Keegan and her writing. Our book critic, Maureen Corrigan, says the only flaw she sees with Keegan's work is that there isn't enough of it. Here's her review of "So Late In The Day," a newly published collection of three of Keegan's short stories.

MAUREEN CORRIGAN, BYLINE: Claire Keegan's newly published short story collection, "So Late In The Day," contains three tales that testify to the screwed up relations between women and men. To give you a hint about Keegan's views on who's to blame for that situation, be aware that when the title story was published in France earlier this year, it was called "Misogynie." In that story, a Dublin office worker named Cathal is feeling the minutes drag by on a Friday afternoon. Something about the situation soon begins to seem off. Cathal's boss comes over and urges him to call it a day. Cathal absent-mindedly neglects to save the budget file he's been working on. He refrains from checking his messages on the bus ride home because, as we're told, he found he wasn't ready, then wondered if anyone ever was ready for what was difficult or painful. Cathal eventually returns to his empty house and thinks about his fiancee who's moved out. On first reading, we think, poor guy, he's numb because he's been dumped. On rereading - and Keegan is the kind of writer whose spare, slippery work you want to reread - maybe we think differently. Keegan's sentences shapeshift the second time round, twisting themselves into a more emotionally complicated story. Listen, for instance, to her brief description of how Cathal's bus ride home ends.

(Reading) At the stop for Jack White's Inn, a young woman came down the aisle and sat in the vacated seat across from him. He sat, breathing in her scent until it occurred to him that there must be thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of women who smelled the same.

Perhaps Cathal is clumsily trying to console himself. Perhaps, though, the French were on to something in entitling this story "Misogynie." It's evident from the arrangement of this collection that Keegan's nuanced, suggestive style is one she's achieved over the years. The three short stories in "So Late In The Day" appear in reverse chronological order so that the last story, "Antarctica," is the oldest, first published in 1999. It's far from an obvious tale, but there's a definite foreboding, woman-in-peril-vibe going on throughout "Antarctica." In contrast, the central story of this collection, called "The Long And Painful Death," which was originally published in 2007, is a pensive masterpiece about male anger towards successful women and the female impulse to placate that anger.

Our unnamed heroine, a writer, has been awarded a precious two weeks residency at the isolated Heinrich Boll house on Achill Island, a real place on Ireland's west coast. She arrives at the house exhausted and falls asleep on the couch. Keegan writes that when she woke, she felt the tail end of a dream, a feeling like silk disappearing. The house phone starts ringing, and the writer reluctantly answers it. A man who identifies himself as a professor of German literature says he's standing right outside and that he's gotten permission to tour the house. Our writer, like many women, needs more work on her personal boundaries. She puts off this unwanted visitor until evening, but she's not strong enough to refuse him altogether. After she puts the phone down, we're told that what had begun as a fine day was still a fine day, but had changed. Now that she had fixed a time, the day in some way was obliged to proceed in the direction of the German's coming. She spends valuable writing time making a cake for her guest, who, when he arrives, turns out to be a man with a healthy face and angry blue eyes. He mentioned something about how many people want to come here - many, many applications. I am lucky, I know, murmurs our writer. The professor is that tiresome kind of guest who could neither create conversation nor be content to have none. That is, until he reveals himself to be a raging, green-eyed monster of an academic. This story is the only one of the three that has what I'd consider to be a happy ending. But maybe upon rereading, I'll find still another tone lurking in Keegan's magnificently simple, resonant sentences.

MOSLEY: Maureen Corrigan is a professor of literature at Georgetown University. She reviewed "So Late In The Day" by Claire Keegan. Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, how much influence does Fox News have now? We talk with media reporter Brian Stelter. He's written his second book about Fox called "Network Of Lies: The Epic Saga Of Fox News Donald Trump And The Battle For American Democracy." It's about Fox in the days and years after January 6. I hope you can join us.


MOSLEY: To keep up with what's on the show and to get highlights of our interviews, follow us on Instagram - @nprfreshair. FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Ann Marie Baldonado, Therese Madden, Thea Chaloner, Seth Kelley and Susan Nyakundi. Our digital media producer is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. For Terry Gross, I'm Tonya Mosley.


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