As these examples show, a common theme of these stories is the mysterious power of truth and deception. In "Widows," Leary demands payment for a debt that does not exist; Catherine accepts the lie in the interest of preserving her dead husband's reputation. In "Lost Ground," the family and the community know that Milton was murdered with the complicity of his own brother, but this truth will never be openly admitted. The criminals in "A Bit of Business," will succeed in their petty crime unless the old man comes forth as a witness. And Gilbert's mother, knowing instinctively that all evidence in the story points to her son as a serial killer, will keep her secret at the cost of other lives.
The complex interweaving of a series of deceptions is most evident in "The Potato Dealer." Mulreavy does not know (but Ellie's uncle suspects) that the father of the child was a visiting priest. The village accepts Mulreavy as the child's father, even though there has not been (and never will be) a physical relationship between Ellie and her husband. He has never asked his wife for the truth, and has developed a strong affection for the little girl. When the child is ten years old, Ellie, observing the coarse, peasant-like nature of Mulreavy, decides that the child deserves to know the truth. Ellie remembers the priest as a romantic, spiritual person (although the reader may question this, knowing that he abandoned her). Against all advice to let the past remain hidden, Ellie makes her shocking announcement, causing malicious gossip in the community and making a laughingstock of Mulreavy. In this and other stories, the gradual unfolding of layers of information creates a moral dilemma for the reader. In the last paragraph of the story, sympathy shifts from the callous treatment of Ellie as a woman wronged by the conventions of society, to some respect for Mulreavy, who has...
(The entire section is 768 words.)