Three stories from the author of Small Things Like These. In "So Late in the Day," Cathal faces a long weekend as his mind agitates over a woman with whom he could have spent his life, had he acted differently; in "The Long and Painful Death" a writer's arrival at the seaside home of Heinrich Bèoll for a two-week writing residency is disrupted by an academic who imposes his criticisms and opinions; and in "Antarctica" a married woman travels out of town to see what it's like to sleep with another man and ends up in the grip of a possessive stranger.' Each story probes the dynamics that corrupt what could be between women and men: a lack of generosity, the weight of expectation, the looming threat of violence.
The short-story writer 'can’t create compassion with compassion, or emotion with emotion, or thought with thought,' Flannery O'Connor wrote. 'When you can state the theme of a story, when you can separate it from the story itself, then you can be sure the story is not a very good one.' By this metric, Claire Keegan’s So Late in the Day, a collection of one novella and two short stories all exploring misogyny through the eyes of women who react to it and men who blister with it, is nothing short of a masterpiece. Through narratives of a canceled wedding, a writer’s interrupted residency and a woman’s dangerous infidelity with a stranger, Keegan’s delicate hand directs the reader away from obvious moralizing to the banality of bigotry.
The chasm between men and women is so vast in Claire Keegan’s story collection, So Late in the Day, that her characters might as well speak different languages. (In two of the three stories, they do.) Each of these tight, potent stories takes place over just a few hours, and each explores the fraught dynamics between two people, a man and a woman … Keegan’s stories are built around character rather than action, but they never flag. The tension builds almost imperceptibly until it is suddenly unbearable. As in her stunning, tiny novels, Foster and Small Things Like These, she has chosen her details carefully. Everything means something…Her details are so natural that readers might not immediately understand their significance. The stories grow richer with each read … All three stories pivot on a clash of expectations and desires, with women wanting independence and adventure and men expecting old-fashioned subservience and feeling baffled when they do not get it. That bafflement carries an ominous undercurrent; a threat of danger runs through each tale … they have new and powerful things to say about the ever-mystifying, ever-colliding worlds of contemporary Irish women and the men who stand in their way.
Spanning 25 years of Keegan’s career, they trace a current of violent chauvinism from the subtle to the overt. Together they give an image of men defined by sickly hunger, brittle pride, and a growing rage at the slow waning of their social and political power ... In this volume, male rage becomes more subtle as the stories go on, leaving the reader feeling as if they are burrowing through the muck from contemporary hate to its origins ... Each story balances somewhere between the frustration and fear of lonely men and the way their greed and hunger grow in the dark ... She pulls apart the strands of misogyny in individuals and institutions, diagnosing the same problem in both. She connects the violence of the past to that of the present, and domestic violence to state violence ... Throughout her career, Keegan seems to emphasize that we take nothing with us and that all that matters is what we give each other.