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December 14, 2022

virtual advent tour 2022: day 14
posted by soe 6:00 am

Virtual Advent Tour 2022

Today on the Virtual Advent Tour, I’ve got a holiday book review for you:

It is December 1985 in an Irish village in Claire Keegan’s novella, Small Things Like These, and Bill Furlong and his wife and five daughters are preparing for Christmas.

Bill runs a small coal delivery company, and it’s been an okay year for them. Not everyone can pay their bill, but enough people can that he can afford not to chase after the families he knows can’t. As a small business owner, he’s able to keep some people employed, even as factories are laying people off. He and his wife can send their children to the local Catholic schools and pay for the dentist and put gifts under the tree and, as long as they are careful, can mostly live a comfortable working-class life with the respect of their townsfolk.

A quiet, thoughtful man, Bill is proud of being able to provide in this way. He grew up the child of an unmarried, but loving, mother in service to a kind-hearted local woman, and he knows that without those women (and the male gardener who also worked for the estate), he’d likely have gone down a much different path.

So, when, the Saturday before Christmas he makes a delivery to the local convent and discovers something he’s not supposed to see, it sends him into a spiral. How did he get to this point and how would his story have changed if things had played out differently in his and his mother’s past? What if the careful choices he’s been making have inadvertently hurt people and have protected people causing harm? And what choices do you make when you know the ripples from your actions will affect someone else, no matter what you do?

Keegan combines the same distinct sense of time and place with that timelessness that I associate with Dylan Thomas’ A Child’s Christmas in Wales. And despite it taking place during my childhood, it read to me like something out of the 1950s, which I think both helps to give you the distance to process the story and underscores that this took place so recently.

This is a novella, so you could buy it or borrow it from the library this week and still read it before Christmas Eve, when the story ends. I highly recommend it to everyone.

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