Like many Irish, author Anne Enright is suspicious of earthly happiness. Both her acclaimed 2007 novel, "The Gathering," and her new book of short stories, "Yesterday's Weather," highlight this theme. Undoubtedly, most of the 31 stories in the collection are pitch-dark in tone. Moreover, most feature a narrator, a single consciousness who is angry at the world, one who expresses this outrage with offensive four-letter words.
Yet taken as a whole, "Yesterday's Weather" is a remarkably wise portrayal of the human condition. Clearly, Enright's forté is the depiction of relationships, not only between male and female but also between family members and friends.
In "The Cruise," through the eyes of an adult daughter, we learn of a Dublin couple in their 70s who fly to Miami to embark on a weeklong luxury cruise in the Caribbean. Enright begins the story, "Watching them go through the departure gate at Dublin airport -- her mother in a powder-blue tracksuit and her father in white running shoes -- Kate realized they would die. It was the tracksuit that did it." Kate sees them the evening they return home to Dublin and listens as they dutifully relate the details of their trip. "They seem," thinks Kate, "slightly disappointed with the world now that seeing it was so easy." Kate perceives correctly that her parents have had their adventure and would never leave the country again.
An elderly man and woman are also the focus of "Della." Tom and Della have lived next door to each other (their houses share a common wall) in a Dublin neighborhood for more than 50 years, "but they never got on much. Della had liked his wife once, but the wife was dead a long time." Tom "had never been chatty," and had always been sarcastic. Now, as Della falters her way through old age and forgetfulness, she occasionally hears from next door a scratching or a tapping. These menacing noises originate in Tom's kitchen. More than once when passing on the street, Tom neither speaks nor nods to her. As curious about Tom as she is resentful, Della notices that his newspapers, placed in the pick-up bin, have not been opened, let alone read. In one of the few stories in the collection to end happily, Della lowers her pride and comes to the rescue of this maddening blind man.
The most outstanding story is perhaps "Little Sister." Set in Dublin in 1981, it is told with affecting immediacy by an unnamed 21-year-old woman. She tells the tragic tale of Serena, her 17-year-old sister, who dies from anorexia. At its core the story is a brilliant exploration of the nature of familial responsibility and the agony of guilt. According to Enright, ambivalence is more plausible than certainty when it comes to making moral decisions.
Eulogizing the illustrious James Joyce at his funeral in 1941, a British dignitary noted that Ireland would continue to enjoy lasting revenge over England by producing literary master-pieces. Anne Enright joins a long line of Irish writers who prove that prediction accurate.
Katherine Bailey lives in Bloomington and contributes to Publishers Weekly and British Heritage. She also reviews books for the Philadelphia Inquirer.