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Irish Housekeeping

Sunday, November 9, 2008

YESTERDAY'S WEATHER

By Anne Enright

Grove. 308 pp. $24

The Irish writer Anne Enright won the 2007 Man Booker Prize for The Gathering, her ruthless, gorgeous novel about the power of secrets in family life. Enright's new book, Yesterday's Weather, is a collection of short stories written over the course of 19 years.

It is interesting to encounter a powerful writer going free-range and operating outside the demands of a novel. Enright's subjects are family, children, love, domestic horror. The stories are strong and hard bitten. Something in them is always snagging and catching on grief, large or small. She is a confident writer, letting stories unfold at their own speed. Her best pieces have a fluid shape that feels close to the way we actually think, choose, muse.

Some pieces, like "Until the Girl Died," are about the awful parts of marriage: tales of domestic hell, the contemporary Irish variety. Others are grounded in the ordinary life that seems to appeal to few American writers these days. "Caravan," for example, about a rainy family holiday on the cheap in France, is just the sort of cutting, generous, surprising story that Raymond Carver might have written, had he been an Irishwoman.

The title story, "Yesterday's Weather," has to do with babies and in-laws, "nappies" and snot. Unpromising ingredients, but the story succeeds, even achieves a state of grace. Enright is often bloody-minded, never heartless. "The Cruise" is about aged parents and the limits of kinship, and feels awkwardly surprising and exactly true. "Little Sister" is about a girl dying of anorexia, told from the point of view of an older sister. Bare, fierce, daringly whimsical, it may be the strongest story in the collection, which is saying a lot.

Some pieces are less successful. In "Honey," a woman on a business trip resolutely plans her seduction by a colleague, who reveals his awfulness. Enright's writing is so clear and supple here that the reader rereads, thinking he may have missed some essential line of connective tissue, but it does not seem to be there.

Usually, though, Enright mixes ingredients just right, achieving that alluring instability the short story form seems to demand. Yesterday's Weather is a powerful book from a writer who speaks plainly and knows that hardly anything is quite as it seems.

-- Peter Behrens, the author of "The Law of Dreams."

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