The Rose Garden: Short Stories

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9781582430508: The Rose Garden: Short Stories

From the author of The Springs of Affection, a second collection of masterly short stories from the glory days of The New Yorker.

Maeve Brennan's collection The Springs of Affection was one of the best reviewed books of 1997. A volume of linked tales of the author's native Dublin, it enlarged the reputation of a too-often overlooked writer, a Flaubertian perfectionist revered by her New Yorker colleagues as one of the finest stylists the magazine ever produced. Now, with The Rose Garden, the remainder of her fiction-much of it previously uncollected-is at last restored to print, and Maeve Brennan stands revealed as one of the century's great short-story writers.

In five of these twenty stories, we return to Brennan's Dublin, which like Joyce's is a place of paralyzed souls, unexpressed love, and scaldingly wicked humor. Another group of stories-a satirical study of Herbert's Retreat, a snug and smug community just up the Hudson River from New York-concerns the Irish in America, the hired help of a set of money-conscious, social-climbing suburbanites. Still others take us into the cheap hotels and inexpensive restaurants of Times Square and Greenwich Village, and into the mind of Bluebell, an aging city dog-a female black Lab, to be exact-who lives on her memories of the country and the seashore. Together they form a collection that, as The New York Times Book Review said of The Springs of Affection, is "wide-ranging, savage, and poignant," and that "brings Brennan back to the table of modern fiction, where her place has been empty for too long."

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Review:

Addictive tales from a rediscovered mid-century master. Or maybe the more appropriate word would be mistress, since The Rose Garden is crammed to the rafters with maids and their mistresses. Maeve Brennan, a longtime staff writer at The New Yorker, shows herself thoroughly in control of her fictive house in this posthumous reissue of stories from the 1950s through the '70s. Each is a witty, mean little miracle of lost chances and bruised egos. The first five stories are set in the town of Herbert's Retreat, an arty, expensive enclave on the Hudson, based on Sneden's Landing where Brennan lived for several years with her husband, New Yorker managing editor St. Clair McKelway. The Herbert's Retreat stories are linked entertainments, compulsively readable, and worthy of the adoration inspired by F. Scott Fitzgerald's "Basil and Josephine" stories. Like Fitzgerald, Brennan limns shattering loss and hilariously sends up middle-class pretentions--sometimes within the space of the same sentence. A pompous New York critic imposes his finicky will on the good wives of the community; a favorite son returns a broken man and finds that only the maids will dance with him; a bum passing through leaves his rather stinky mark.

Every character, above stairs and below, lives for the delight of recounting the disasters and drunks of the night before. The afternoon before the servants' annual dance, "jaded with talking about the dance, anxious now only to get on with it, willing even to have it past, so that they could start enjoying the discussion of it, most of the maids at Herbert's Retreat lay down on their beds for an unaccustomed ceremonial nap before getting dressed for the evening." The closed community and its inhabitants' transparent attempts to dominate each other recall E.F. Benson's utterly delightful Lucia series.

The Rose Garden is rounded out with several of Brennan's acclaimed stories of bereft Dublin life, a couple of experimental, stream-of-consciousness pieces, and, of all things, a handful of dog stories. Her forays into the interior life of her Labrador, Bluebell, might read as twee indulgences, except they're so rife with breathtaking, careful observation:

That was an unearthly morning--one mislaid at the beginning of the world and recovered in East Hampton under a high and massive sky of Mediterranean blue.... The wind was so new that it blew cold, in its first rush across the world, but the air was soft. The pheasant's head and body were almost buried in the powdery sand, but he had fallen with his wings wide open, and one of them slanted up to make a wedge of color in the air.
Such quiet, perfect sentences stud Maeve Brennan's stories. This is a book full of intelligent diversions, a book that makes a good, lasting sound. --Claire Dederer

About the Author:

Maeve Brennan left Ireland for America in 1934, when she was seventeen. In 1949 she went to work for The New Yorker, to which she contributed book reviews, fashion notes, memoirs, and short stories. Her last published work-a sketch for The Talk of the Town-appeared in 1981. After more than a decade of mental illness, she died, in 1993, at the age of seventy-six.

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