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Maeve Binchy imagined a street in Dublin with many characters coming and going, and every once in a while she would write about one of these people. She would then put it in a drawer; “for the future,” she would say. The future is now.
Across town from St. Jarlath’s Crescent, featured in Minding Frankie, is Chestnut Street, where neighbors come and go. Behind their closed doors we encounter very different people with different life circumstances, occupations, and sensibilities. Some of the unforgettable characters lovingly brought to life by Binchy are Bucket Maguire, the window cleaner, who must do more than he bargained for to protect his son; Nessa Byrne, whose aunt visits from America every summer and turns the house—and Nessa’s world—upside down; Lilian, the generous girl with the big heart and a fiancé whom no one approves of; Melly, whose gossip about the neighbors helps Madame Magic, a self-styled fortune-teller, get everyone on the right track; Dolly, who discovers more about her perfect mother than she ever wanted to know; and Molly, who learns the cure for sleeplessness from her pen pal from Chicago . . .
Chestnut Street is written with the humor and understanding that are earmarks of Maeve Binchy’s extraordinary work and, once again, she warms our hearts with her storytelling.
- ISBN-13: 9780385351850
- ISBN-10: 0385351852
- Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
- Publish Date: April 2014
- Page Count: 367
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2014-02-24
- Reviewer: Staff
This posthumously published collection of stories revolving around an imaginary street in Dublin was written by Binchy (A Week in Winter) over a period of decades, and approved by her husband, writer Gordon Snell. The earlier stories are more developed than some of the later tales, but overall, the author gives us one last extraordinary look at ordinary people as they struggle with family relationships, romances gone awry, and the possibility for a better future. Standouts include the first story, “Dolly’s Mother,” in which a shy, unassuming teenager copes with having a kind, charismatic mother who is more popular than she is, and—as is revealed—might not be as perfect as everyone thinks. In “It’s Only A Day,” Binchy fondly portrays the transformation of three childhood friends into adults, using the lens of their disparate views on romance, as old-fashioned values find a place in their modern worlds. The book is filled with vignettes in which dissatisfied husbands leave their wives, but find their new lives wanting; disparate people find common ground, and even romance; and holding one’s tongue leads to the best way to make relationships thrive. While some entries come off more as character studies than actual stories, one finds here insightful observations about human nature—all with Binchy’s thoughtful and loving touch that will be sorely missed. (May)
Maeve Binchy's little street in Ireland
Chestnut Street in Dublin, Ireland, is shaped like a horseshoe, with a “big bit of grass in the middle beside some chestnut trees,” and “thirty small houses in a semicircle.” These houses are inhabited by scores of fascinating human beings, however ordinary, who figure in these stories by Maeve Binchy, written between novels. Now, after her death in 2012 at 72, they are finally being published. Most use old-fashioned O. Henry endings to resolve problems or clarify situations in unexpected ways—illuminating the lives of the people involved and, incidentally, warming the hearts of readers.
Even though they share the world of Chestnut Street, each family lives a life of its own, occasionally bouncing off one another as neighbors. In my favorite story, “Ivy,” a lonely, old-fashioned girl who wishes people would write letters instead of email, wins a computer. On a local bulletin board she asks for someone to give her computer lessons in exchange for cooking lessons. “By far the best” offer comes from a 12-year-old boy named Sandy, who lives with his grandfather. The outcome is short and sweet and cuts off a story you would prefer to hear more of, but that is how it is with these little gems: The ending is the point, not anything that comes before.
Though many of these little slices of life are too short for nuance, they are all undemanding and delightful. The more you read, the more you want to read, which makes the fact that Chestnut Street is Binchy’s final collection as poignant an ending as any in her oeuvre.