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Book Review :: So Late in the Day by Claire Keegan

So Late in the Day by Claire Keegan book cover image

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

So Late in the Day, Claire Keegan’s latest collection of stories is subtitled “stories of women and men.” That could just as well read, “stories of women who are trying to live their lives and men who attempt to thwart them.” The middle of three stories, “The Long and Painful Death,” originally published in 2007, tells of a writer who just wants to use her two weeks at a retreat to produce new work, but one man intrudes upon her solitude. She reverts to societal expectations of what a woman should do to entertain a guest, ruining her day. The final story, “Antarctica,” first published in 1999, is more extreme in the complications that ensue. It’s the title story, though, that is the gem of this strong collection. Keegan published it last year, and it is a story that speaks to the gender dynamics of our time. The premise is simple, as it follows a man who meets a woman, then proposes to her. However, their relationship doesn’t go as planned, and he has the opportunity to learn about the world and women, but he learns exactly the wrong lesson. Keegan’s style, as always, is sparse and powerful, much like Chekhov, her favorite writer (who makes an appearance in the middle story). Keegan creates women who want to craft meaningful lives in the world, but the men who interact with them do their best to prevent those lives from coming to fruition.

So Late in the Day by Claire Keegan. Grove Press, 2023

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/.

Book Review :: Stone Junction by Jim Dodge

Stone Junction fiction by Jim Dodge published by Grove press book cover image

Guest Post by Colm McKenna

This year saw the re-release of Jim Dodge’s 1990 cult classic Stone Junction. While Fup remains the cornerstone of Dodge’s legacy, his first full novel is considerably more ambitious. Inexplicably, it is yet to be made into a film.

The story follows Daniel Pearse, a child taken in by AMO – Alliance of Magicians and Outlaws alongside his mother Annalee. Following her murder early on in the story, Stone Junction evolves into a bildungsroman, with Daniel being brought up by an eccentric cast of criminals and wizards. His unconventional education occurs alongside a search for his mother’s killer and an attempt to steal a supernatural diamond from the U.S. government.

Daniel and Annalee’s relationship is a driving force of the story, even after her death. Their situation is unusual, but their bond means they never feel unrelatable. Early on, Daniel offers his mother a piece of tear-soaked birthday cake he had just smashed; he was angry that she couldn’t tell him who his father was even if she wanted to. This moving scene of reconciliation takes place on a boat for magicians and outlaws, perfectly displaying the book’s capacity to juggle emotionally heavy themes and a more playful side.

With the recent success of literary adaptations (The Queen’s Gambit, Shadow and Bone, etc.), re-printing Stone Junction feels appropriate if a film is ever going to come. The novel appeals both to young and old readers; it is an emotionally intelligent coming-of-age story, but also engages with adult themes, ranging from grief to impotency. Dodge’s oeuvre has a minor place in 20th Century American Literature, and I hope this re-print of Stone Junction can help it receive the recognition it deserves.

Stone Junction by Jim Dodge. Grove Press, July 2022

Reviewer bio: Colm McKenna is a second-hand bookseller based in Paris. He has published and self-published an array of short stories and articles, hoping to eventually release a collection of stories. He is mainly interested in the works of John Cowper Powys, Claude Houghton and a range of Latin American writers.