WILLIAM DeMERITT

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 626

[In] the world of Bernard MacLaverty … the loss of innocent illusions is usually comically ironic—not at all as the characters imagined—yet … the loss seems to matter less than the innocence itself.

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Several of the better stories in Secrets and Other Stories deal with a boy's loss of innocence or his initiation into a corrupted adult world. Yet in MacLaverty's stories these transitional steps do not destroy the former, innocent world. Indeed, those worlds seem to take on new depths of tenderness and reality by exposure to the new. In "The Exercise," a story reminiscent of Stephen Dedalus' disciplining in A Portrait of the Artist, a boy is caned by his Latin teacher for daring to suggest that his homework must be right because it was done by his father—a mere barman. Both father and teacher warn that henceforth Kevin will have to work Latin problems out for himself. At the story's conclusion, the boy hasn't yet faced telling his father that his assertion, "'Son, your Da's a genius,'" no longer applies to Latin. Yet characteristic of MacLaverty, and in marked contrast to Joyce, this beginning of disillusionment produces no alienation between father and son…. (pp. 130-31)

Several of MacLaverty's comic situations seem material for raucous one-liners, not the stuff which a grant-winning academic dropping allusions to Joyce, Hopkins, and Forster (and Mr. MacLaverty is also one of these) would find satisfyingly complex….

But darkness intrudes into MacLaverty's predominantly comic world, and his darkened tones are perhaps more convincing because not so stridently insisted upon. Death confronts a number of MacLaverty's children, and death is simply an event to be acknowledged or evaded, not understood. The young boy who sees a drowning in a public pool, in "The Deep End," can find solace in his mother's arms. But the young boys out hunting, in "Where the Tides Meet," are isolated and silenced when their dog is killed: "On the way back to the car in darkness, we string out, a single file, about ten yards between each of us, coming together only to help one another over the fences." The protagonist of the title story, "Secrets," has been caught poring over his maiden aunt's private love letters. Cursed as "dirt" by the aunt, who swore she would remember his desecration till her death, the boy faces her death ambiguously. His crying silently for forgiveness is touchingly juxtaposed against the remarks of his mother, innocently and busily burning the letters, that "'the poor thing was far too gone'" to speak or to remember anything. (p. 131)

Bernard MacLaverty's short stories have appeared in numerous publications, including New Irish Writing and Scottish Short Stories 1977. Secrets and Other Stories, his first collection, reveals a writer of considerable range and ability. As a stylist, MacLaverty is comfortably traditional. His Northern Ireland settings are memorable and distinct; his characters are recognizable and presented so that readers can easily "identify" with them. His comic plots are carefully constructed, and their ironic twists continue to surprise and delight even when anticipated. Some of the tales are self-consciously "literary," and contain first-person narrators who pore over every word of Joyce, teach literature, write fiction, and carry their Hemingway down to the bar when meeting young ladies. But there's been so much of this going around for the last decade that MacLaverty can't be singled out for too much criticism. Besides, two of the "literary" stories produce some of his finest humor, "Anodyne" and "A Pornographer Woos." And despite all this "literary" stuff, Secrets and Other Stories indicates what Bernard MacLaverty's wide-ranging and substantial abilities may contribute to the traditions of Irish short fiction. (p. 132)

William DeMeritt, in a review of "Secrets and Other Stories," in Éire-Ireland, Vol. XIII, No. 2, Summer, 1978, pp. 130-32.

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