Short takes

Email|Print| Text size + By Amanda Heller
February 24, 2008

By Carol Gilligan
Random House, 241 pp., $25

Kyra and Andreas, both European exiles, traumatized survivors of man's inhumanity to man, have washed ashore in 1980s Cambridge, where they meet and, after Andreas batters down Kyra's considerable emotional defenses, become lovers. Then, abruptly, Andreas leaves, and Kyra falls apart. Since the novel's author is Carol Gilligan, the renowned theorist of women's "different voice," we suspect that if healing is to be done, it will happen within Kyra's circle of sensitive, supportive women: her sister, her psychiatrist, a vibrant Iranian colleague.

In this modern variation on the theme of Dido and Aeneas, it is not the hero but the heroine who has a city to found. A professor of urban planning, Kyra is designing an idyllic experimental community on a privately owned island off Martha's Vineyard.

The characters are quite a rarefied bunch. Andreas creatively stages operas; Kyra is on the Harvard faculty, though its petty politics distress her. Everyone in the book is forever citing and probing, intently expounding his or her insights and theories. Kyra is literally taking the talking cure. We admire the novel's cosmopolitanism and intellect, especially given that Gilligan has never written fiction before. But the flame of this love story burns cool and cerebral.

The Deportees and Other Stories
By Roddy Doyle
Viking, 242 pp., $24.95

Dublin is not what it used to be, novelist and screenwriter Roddy Doyle is pleased to inform us. That monochrome backwater has been luring immigrants from all over the world with its recent prosperity, creating a melting pot that gives the term "Irish stew" an ironic new meaning.

The stories in this collection explore that meaning in a variety of moods ranging from sunlight to deepest shadow, as in "The Pram," a domestic horror story about a troubled Polish au pair, and "I Understand," in which a former African child soldier must confront violence in the land he had hoped would become a refuge.

The sunnier stories crackle with hard-edged laughter and nervous energy. When a young woman brings a Nigerian fellow home to dinner, her father lurches into full Archie Bunker mode, spewing offense while assuring himself and everyone in earshot that he's an open-minded man. A particularly sweet-natured story marks the return of Jimmy Rabbitte, the amateur impresario from "The Commitments," haphazardly assembling multicolored and multicultural would-be musicians from all over the city for yet another short-lived band. Whether Doyle's portrayal of kitchen-table Dublin is fact or fantasy, no one does it more persuasively.

Keeper and Kid
By Edward Hardy
Thomas Dunne/St. Martin's, 294 pp., $24.95

Feeling fragile after the implosion of his marriage, James Keeper moved an hour down the road from Boston to Providence, where he remains, four years later, now in his mid-30s, in a state of more or less permanent regression to adolescence. He works in a desultory way at a boyhood buddy's collectibles business and shares a small house with an often exasperated girlfriend. Then something happens in this novel to shake his little world like a snow globe. His ex-wife dies, and Keeper must come and fetch Leo, the golden-haired 3-year-old son he never knew he had.

Dazed and confused, Keeper feels as if he has been shot out of a cannon into parenthood. His girlfriend quickly assesses the situation and makes her exit. Leo, uprooted, is too young to understand what has happened to him but old enough to know that it hurts, and bright enough to outwit Keeper constantly. It's a toss-up as to which one is more mature.

Edward Hardy keeps the narrative sufficiently off-center to evade any charges of outright heartstring-tugging. In Leo, in particular, he has created one of the most enchantingly realistic tots in recent fiction. We don't know whether to keep turning the pages or dive into them and offer to baby-sit.

Amanda Heller is a critic and editor who lives in Newton.

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