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© Bella Stander

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The Rose Garden:
Short Stories
by Maeve Brennan

May/June 2000

by Bella Stander

Irish-born Brennan, who died in 1993, wrote for The New Yorker for more than 30 years, beginning in 1949. The first seven tales, written in the early to mid-50s, are set in the smug and exclusive enclave of fictional Herbert's Retreat, a "community of about forty houses on the east bank of the Hudson, thirty miles above New York City." In their dead-on ear for dialogue and quietly ironic manner of skewering the pretensions and pettifoggery of the would-be social elite, they are an amalgam of Dorothy Parker and Saki. However, inasmuch as each one ends with some self-deluded climber's comeuppance, they blend together indistinguishably and, for all their high polish, are cold and uninvolving. Five stories set in Ireland, including the title, throw off a little more heat; yet here again Brennan's emotional detachment is obvious as she examines characters who are trapped in lives of not always quiet rage and/or desperation. Her bitchy and lugubrious tones give way to one of poignant wisdom in the final eight tales, dating from the 1960s, set in Manhattan and eastern Long Island. "A Snowy Night on West Forty-ninth Street" is a meticulously observed set piece; "I See You, Bianca," about an apartment cat that goes missing, and stories centering on Bluebell, the author's child- and beach-loving Labrador retriever, are timeless treasures.

© 2000 Bella Stander

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