Written over the course of 19 years, "Yesterday's Weather" is a collection of detached and mordantly funny short stories by Anne Enright, the Irish writer who won the 2007 Man Booker Prize for her bleak but masterful novel "The Gathering."
Every one of the 31 stories in this new collection offer unnerving but thoroughly recognizable themes – marriages skirting towards total collapse, the appalling cost of extramarital affairs, and the infinite ways that love can die or be foolishly abandoned - and that’s part of the secret of her skill as a writer. Enright’s gaze never falters; almost reflexively, she goes right to the rage and distress bubbling under the surface of even the most superficially happy domestic arrangements. It can make for unnerving reading, but it's all the more powerful for that.
Enright’s voluble female characters stand at odds with the conciliatory doormats or the glamorous vamps that can be found in much recent Irish writing. None of her Irish female characters are afraid to seem unpleasant, nor do they worry much about the consequences of saying what they think. It’s ironic, then, that some of Enright’s most ardent critics to date have been other women, troubled by what they usually call her cerebral detachment, and her profanity, even as they celebrate her accomplishments.
Enright has always been particularly gifted at depicting struggles between spouses, siblings and friends. The opening story, "Until The Girl Died," is a deceptively simple at-arms-length account of an extramarital affair told from the point of view of the stunned wife grappling with its aftermath. Her prose is clear and sharp, as we listen to this middle-aged Dublin housewife rationalizing her husband’s behavior.
“The girl died. And it was nothing to do with us, with either of us. She died in the stupid way that people do – in a car crash, in Italy. Where, presumably, she was driving on the wrong side of the road. Silly twit.”
For all her formal coolness, Enright is also adept at strong emotion, and in "Until The Girl Died" and other stories can catch you off guard with their subtle intensity.
In "Yesterday’s Weather," the collection’s title story, a husband and wife confront the complete collapse of the love between them and then – Beckett like – simply go on. The trials of motherhood, the gaps that can open between husband and wife, the vague sense that time is passing quickly and something profound might be escaping you – they’re all here.
In "Caravan" a couple take their kids on a holiday to France, where the young mother begins to see a ghost in the trailer they have rented. Late at night she’s visited by an ashen-faced old crone whose endless laundry is never, ever done. “There was,” the young mother thinks, “something else about this woman: the set of her face; there was some other wreckage in her that Michelle did not yet recognize.”
It’s the “yet” in that sentence that chills the reader. The inevitable future still comes as a surprise to us when it’s measured against our hopes and dreams. But in a collection of 31 stories it would be a surprise if not one admitted some light. In "Here’s To Love," a poignant and simultaneously joyful account of a 39-year-old Irish woman’s marriage to a 63-year-old Vietnamese man who was abused and tortured during the Vietnam war, and who has traveled far beyond the petty concerns of everyday life, Enright gives voice to the harsh lessons of experience when held against our deepest hopes.
“This is what happens when love intersects with history,” she writes. “This is the distance you keep. Or it is the distance the Vietnamese keep. Or old men. Or it is the way my husband and I think about distance and tenderness -- it is just the way we are. Who knows? We will have no children. We are very happy. Or, no. We are not happy, exactly. But we love each other very much, and this charges our lives with shape and light.”
"Yesterday’s Weather" is published by Grove Press, $24.00