Short, intense and emotionally precise ... Such is McCloskey’s powerful control of the novel and meticulous, economical observations, that in little more than 200 pages she can show the exact nature of a life not wasted, but not fully inhabited — Alice ends up with no settled home as an aid worker for refugees — as well as the character of one marriage, of an affair and, not least, of the transformation of Ireland herself.
Molly McCloskey...brings a hyper-lucid wistfulness to the genre. Her novel’s title may sound jokey, but her book is dead serious about the losses entailed in a marriage’s undermining ... [protagonist] Alice, we may come to feel, has been approaching both her marriage and her affair semi-ironically, playing at being the stay-at-home wife with matching candlesticks, playing at being the adulteress addicted to secrecy and ruin. The real heartbreak in this wise, discomfiting novel turns out to be the love between mother and daughter — a daughter early damage has driven to exile in a hard place.
Through Alice’s layered narration, which is memoiristic in its true-feeling fullness and analysis, readers catch glimpses of her mostly happy marriage and her nonetheless easier-than-expected demolition of it. But that’s only half of her moving and propulsive tale ... Perfect for fans of deep-dive character studies in strong, moody settings.
In a novel ostensibly about a troubled relationship between a husband and wife, this reflection on pure and lasting maternal-filial love buoys a sometimes mournful story. Among McCloskey’s most successful feats is widening the idea of what makes for a true, soul-enriching connection even as she demonstrates the narrowing of the more standard, husband/wife route to fulfillment ... McCloskey’s exquisite phrasing and original observations light up Straying from the first page to the last.
The story of the affair and its impact on Alice’s marriage offers few surprises, but McCloskey excels in weaving Alice’s twin griefs over her lost marriage...and her mother’s death ... Elegant prose and nuanced self-awareness, reminiscent of early Edna O'Brien, enhance this intensely focused story of memory and self-imposed loss.
McCloskey is a keen, sympathetic observer; her tight, controlled prose meticulously details Alice’s honest consideration of her flaws and desires. The melancholic complexity of Alice’s very human struggle carries this elegant novel with no easy answers.