Chestnut Street

By Maeve Binchy

(Knopf Doubleday, $26.95, 384 pages)

Who is this author?

Maeve Binchy is no longer with us, but her many novels live on. Her long list of bestsellers includes Nights of Rain and Stars, Scarlet Feather, Circle of Friends, and Tara Road, which was an Oprah’s Book Club choice. Binchy also wrote for major magazines, such as Gourmet; O, The Oprah Magazine; Modern Maturity; and Good Housekeeping, and London.  She was married to Gordon Snell, and they had homes in London and Dalkey, Ireland, until her death in 2012.

What is this book about?

Binchy, for many years, wrote hitherto unpublished short stories and sketches about the fictional residents of fictional Chestnut Street in very real Dublin, where neighbors knew each other’s business, sometimes getting involved and sometimes just observing from behind the living room drapes. These stories are gathered here for posthumous publication. In them you will meet many women learning to stand up to overbearing husbands, mothers and children; the glimmers and growth of unlikely love affairs, fathers trying to do right by estranged children, families confronting long-simmering issues and other domestic dramas. Visiting Chestnut Street with Binchy as your guide is like taking a trip to the Ireland tourists overlook.

Why you’ll like it:

Whether you read this collection as minor short stories by a great storyteller or as preliminary sketches for novels that might have come, there is plenty to enjoy on Chestnut Street. Binchy had a great gift for storytelling, and while some of these short pieces end abruptly or too tidily, the characters she invents are fascinating. The stories are brief but compelling, and you may find this book reminiscent of that old potato chip commercial: Nobody can read just one.

What others are saying:

Booklist says: “Binchy was well-known for creating realistic characters who interact in ordinary ways, in ordinary places. Before her death, in 2012, she had been jotting down short stories here and there featuring a number of different characters who all lived on the same Dublin street, Chestnut Street. This collection was gathered by her editors and approved by her family for publication. Readers meet plain Dolly, who wants to be just like her glamorous mother; Joyce, a model who gets her comeuppance on a blind date with an obese man; and Kevin Walsh, the taxi driver who keeps strangers’ secrets. Many of the stories are quite brief (as short as three pages) but serve as lovely character portraits. There is no common plotline moving the stories along, and some stories are stronger than others, but, overall, the collection works well, and her fans will be pleased. . . . Binchy’s many fans are sure to line up to read this collection of short stories, especially since they know there will be no more.”

“Reflect[s] Binchy’s generous spirit and realism about human frailty, never ignoring it but always empathizing with its cause,” says the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Publishers Weekly says:  “This posthumously published collection of stories revolving around an imaginary street in Dublin was written by over a period of decades, and approved by her husband, writer Gordon Snell. The earlier stories are more developed than some of the later tales, but overall, the author gives us one last extraordinary look at ordinary people as they struggle with family relationships, romances gone awry, and the possibility for a better future. Standouts include the first story, “Dolly’s Mother,” in which a shy, unassuming teenager copes with having a kind, charismatic mother who is more popular than she is, and—as is revealed—might not be as perfect as everyone thinks. In “It’s Only A Day,” Binchy fondly portrays the transformation of three childhood friends into adults, using the lens of their disparate views on romance, as old-fashioned values find a place in their modern worlds. The book is filled with vignettes in which dissatisfied husbands leave their wives, but find their new lives wanting; disparate people find common ground, and even romance; and holding one’s tongue leads to the best way to make relationships thrive. While some entries come off more as character studies than actual stories, one finds here insightful observations about human nature—all with Binchy’s thoughtful and loving touch that will be sorely missed.”

Kirkus Reviews says: “A variable, posthumous collection of loosely linked short stories from the much cherished Irish writer who died in 2012. Thirty-six tales of differing length, predictability and quality, generally focused on female characters—wives and mothers, partners, singletons, daughters and friends—make up this late addition to the Binchy oeuvre and explore domestic problems ranging from cranky relatives and problem children to unexpected attractions, and, most often, insensitive and/or faithless men. Binchy’s wise insights and wicked humor are visible now and then, for example in the cheerily sparring dialogue of “Fay’s New Uncle” and the teacher looking for mischief in “A Problem of My Own,” but too often there’s a sense of datedness, superficiality or simple fairy tale. . . . Nevertheless, the author’s compassion extends widely, notably to the many cheated-upon wives, girlfriends and children, as in “Taxi Men Are Invisible,” when a driver finds himself observing an affair, or “Reasonable Access,” which views divorce from the confused child’s point of view, or “The Gift of Dignity,” one of the few longer, more emotionally complex stories, which contemplates, from a friend’s perspective, a silent wife’s possible collusion in her husband’s adultery. Chestnut Street itself, a semicircle of 30 small houses in Dublin, plays a minor but constant role, as safe harbor to the nurse, the window cleaner, the couples, families and loners and, in “Madame Magic”—a typically tidy offering—a substitute fortuneteller who turns Melly’s empty house into a busy home. For Binchy aficionados, a late indulgence; for others, slim pickings.

When is it available?

Binchy’s last book is at the Camp Field, Goodwin, Mark Twain and Ropkins branches of the Hartford Public Library.

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