Opinion Advocates for ideas and draws conclusions based on the author/producer’s interpretation of facts and data.
By Brian McGowan
I mentioned, a few articles past, a film, “The Quiet Girl,” which is based on the novella “Foster,” by Irish author Claire Keegan. This brilliant film played for several weeks at Pleasantville’s Jacob Burns Film Center.
To my embarrassment, I had not read anything by Keegan at that point, an omission I quickly set out to rectify by a trip to my local library, where I sought out a reference librarian’s assistance in locating a copy of “Foster.” For anyone who fears that libraries are a thing of the past, take heart. They are as helpful and essential as ever, and continue to reinvent themselves.
A quick dip into the database of the 38 branches of the Westchester Library System revealed that every copy of “Foster” throughout the county had been checked out, and I would have to wait until someone returned their copy. And I did – wait, that is. After a week or so, I picked up a copy of the book.
Within 48 hours I had finished it, and now had something to compare with the film version. True to form (and hopeful expectation), the book was even better. And I was firmly hooked on Keegan, for her crisp characters, true-to-earth dialogue and plot lines that leave readers feeling like they are racing to an unseen and often unexpected conclusion with every page turned. It is a rare story that is not consumed in one reading, so vibrant are the characters she casts in her work.
Having finished “Foster,” I did some research on its author. Born into a farming family in County Wicklow in Ireland’s Southeast in 1968, Keegan has led an adventurous life, and is a master at the craft of short story writing.
She left Ireland at the age of 17 for America, where she studied at Louisiana’s Loyola University, majoring in English and political science. At 24, she returned to Ireland, continued her studies and began to write. Her first collection of stories, “Antarctica,” debuted in 1999, to huge critical acclaim. And on that work, I next set my sights.
Again, a trek to the library. Again, a wait of a week or more before a copy surfaced. As with “Foster,” I binged through “Antarctica’s” 101 pages and 16 stories in two days, and came away with a firm conviction that Keegan has a magician’s power to weave characters who virtually walk off the page. Some stories are brief, others long, but all are memorable. And in each one, Keegan draws the reader through a cascading climax of words, like waves on a beach, compelling the reader to savor every word as if it was the last meal they would ever eat.
Keegan’s stories span Ireland and the United States, the latter reflecting her five years in the American South. She spends great time crafting her stories, and is never rushed, focusing always on quality versus quantity. In all, her published output runs to less than 500 pages, the size of a decent novel.
Eight years after “Antarctica,” in 2007, Keegan put out a second collection of stories, “Walk the Blue Fields.” “Foster,” published three years later in 2010, was her third published work.
Her latest work, “Small Things Like These,” appeared in 2021. It confronts one of the earth-shaking scandals of modern Ireland, the abuse of orphans under the care of the Roman Catholic Church. Its protagonist, a hard-working coal merchant named Bill Furlong, is a hero who takes a stand against this abuse, no matter the consequences.
The story shocks, as does all of Keegan’s writing. These are not bucolic renditions of quaint folk living an idealized life. There are raw edges in all of Keegan’s stories, as she strips bare some startling secrets that have gone on behind closed doors in Ireland’s recent past.
Keegan has received countless accolades over the course of her career, and currently conducts fiction writing workshops throughout the year. Her website is www.ckfictionclinic.com.
Whenever her next work appears, it will not be soon enough!
Longtime Pleasantville resident Brian McGowan was born and raised in the Bronx and is a second-, third- and fifth-generation Irish-American/Canadian, as his immigrant ancestors followed several paths to the New World. Reach him at email@example.com. He is the author of two books, “Thunder at Noon,” about the Battle of Waterloo, and “Love, Son John,” about World War II. Both are available at Amazon.com.
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