Liberty Terrace by Madeleine D’Arcy
A collection of short stories such as those found in this book can be a good read to pick up and put down, and if they are extremely good and interconnected, such a book can become a real treat. This book is made up of thirteen excellent stories, and as they are all focused around a small area of Cork city some of the characters appear in more than one story, I found this a really enjoyable reading experience. It covers a time period of 2016 to 2020, so many of the people featured have moved on with their lives, showing a real development such as normally seen in novels. Not that every character is revisited, as that could impose a strict form that would not allow for the many surprises and wonderful twists that happen in these stories. There are references in the later stories to the pandemic, but they are incidental to the story and really reflect the reactions of the various characters to the limitations of the pandemic. I thought the descriptions of the various types of masks that the characters wear were cleverly indicative of their personalities and an interesting reflection on real life. The author of these stories has created a series of interesting tales, each one complete in itself, which deftly introduces characters and their situations in a few words, often including dialogue, and leaves the reader to do some work in terms of working out the implications. These are superbly written stories, and add up to a really good read that I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review.
Some of the stories are written in the first person, revealing so much about each character in their situation. A seventeen year old boy tells of his desperate search for somewhere to sleep, and his careful response to the Census Enumerator who turns up at the door. This latter person is the subject of her own story, and turns up again elsewhere to be the recipient of an explanation as to why the residents of a house are changed. There are many touching moments, as people are given another chance in their lives, while there is a real darkness in some stories of desperation and promised revenge. A faded pop star arrives in town to make discoveries. Discoveries of potential betrayals animate some stories, while others revolve around genuine love and loyalty. One of my favourite characters is Deckie Google “A former senior Garda…Though he retired ten years and seven months ago, he’s determined to maintain his standards”. He has a past, he has a present of genuine concern for others, especially in the 2020 situation, and a future of involvement in a daring enterprise. My favourite story is of a refugee who discovers a special tree, and despite everything tends to it like her new life in a grey country which she enlivens with her brightness.
Anyone who has ever tried to write short contemporary stories will appreciate this book as a real achievement, as it carefully balances between sentimentality, drama, the mundane and the surprising. It seems to deal with realistic people in situations that are understandable, featuring challenges that we can all appreciate. I thoroughly recommend this collection of short stories to all admirers of the form, as well as those who are interested in depictions of the strange times in which we live.