Off the Shelf: Foster Book Review

Off the Shelf: Foster
By Claire Keegan
Grove Press ISBN 978-0-8021-6014-0 275 95 pp  2022 Review by Terrence J. Kenneally

Foster is the second book written by Claire Keegan reviewed in this space. Her other, and more recent book, also a novella or short novel, Small Things Like These was reviewed earlier this year in iIrish.

Foster took a strange and circuitous path to publication. It was released in abridged form in The New Yorker in 2010 but wasn’t published in its original length in the United States by Grove Press until 2022, after the release of Small Things Like These.

The narrator, Keegan, is a young girl  in rural Ireland who is sent by her parents to live with the Kinsella family, while her mother, Mary, carries to term another child in a household bustling with other siblings. The Kinsellas, John and Edna, have no children of their own and will foster the girl on their small farm in Wexford, toward the south eastern coast of Ireland.

The time period is probably the early 1980s, based on conversation the girl overhears about the Irish hunger strike. The Irish Troubles play no part in the book or the girl’s life.

The girl’s summer is one of ease, not abandonment, but she senses an absence in the Kinsella house, which she comes to learn is because the couple lost a son in a tragic accident which has brought about the foster parent’s grief. Nonetheless, Keegan averts expectations in the couple’s portrayal, which brings some levity to the story.

Foster probes the social side effects of Ireland’s former strict prohibition on contraception and abortion from the perspective of a girl who is taken in for a summer by a childless couple, and feels loved for the first time, a feeling that forces the realization that she’s unwanted at home.

Keegan’s work, sparse that it is, has been hailed by other writers of the short fiction genre as comparable to Raymond Carver, Alice ???, William Trevor and Anton Chekhov.

It is a book that can be easily read in one siting, but I am confident, an enjoyable sitting indeed will occur. I rate it a TOP SHELF read.

*Terrence J. Kenneally is an attorney and owner of Terrence J. Kenneally & Associates in Rocky River, Ohio. He received his Masters Degree in Irish Studies from John Carroll University and has taught Irish Literature and Irish History.

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