Seeing William Trevor's name on Claire Keegan's U.S. debut story collection "Antarctica" may raise a few eyebrows. Others who gush over the County Wexford-born Keegan - Roddy Doyle, Ann Enright, Matthew Klam - are fine writers. But Trevor could be the greatest living storyteller in the English language. So if he thinks enough of the book to lend his blurb, "Antarctica" may very well be a special collection of 16 stories. Mostly, it is. Keegan holds master's degrees in both writing and philosophy. She also won Ireland's prestigious Rooney Prize, as well as (fittingly) the William Trevor Prize. You can see why in Keegan's best stories, such as "Sisters," a tense study of two very different siblings, with a conclusion so powerful, it could have been set in Trevor's Cork - or Chekov's Russia. Residing in Ireland, England, or the Southern U.S. (Keegan also attended Loyola University in New Orleans), the best characters in Antarctica are haunted by the past - yet they are strong-willed and funny. Even doomed characters fight to seize their fate. Some stories, however, don't feel like much more than sketches. They're skillfully done, but lack a certain depth. All in all, though, Keegan clearly is a writer to watch.
(Atlantic Monthly Press / $24 / 208 pages)