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Book Review :: Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan

Small Things Like These a novel by Claire Keegan published by Grove Atlantic book cover image

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

With Small Things Like These, Claire Keegan has chosen a title that seemingly fits her work perfectly, in theme, length, and style. Her novella centers on Bill Furlong, a coal and fuel seller in 1980s Ireland. His life seems quite small, as he goes about his daily routine, working hard delivering and selling coal, logs, and other fuel to customers, and striving to provide for his wife and four daughters. As Christmas approaches, though, he has an encounter that will lead him to make a moral choice, forcing him to confront his privilege and decide what his and his family’s life should be like moving forward. Keegan’s sentences crackle with clarity, presenting exactly what the reader needs to know, and little more. The book is brief—just over a hundred pages—a work readers can digest in one sitting. It seems a small thing, much like Furlong’s life, but it contains so much more, as it grapples with Ireland’s recent history of Magdalene houses. At one point, Furlong thinks, “Why were the things that were closest so often the hardest to see?” That one question sums up decades of dark Irish history, but also so many decisions we fail to make in our lives. Keegan’s novella is a great thing, indeed.

Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan. Grove Press, November 2021.

Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. Twitter @kevinbrownwrite or kevinbrownwrites.weebly.com/.

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