Blank Pages: And Other Stories

Norton. Jan. 2022. 272p. ISBN 9780393881592. $26.95. F
The first and last selections in this collection from Booker short-listed Irish writer MacLaverty (Grace Notes; The Anatomy School) take place in Northern Ireland during World War II. Both stories, along with those they bookend, reveal something miraculous in the midst of despair and tragedy. MacLaverty presents variations on this idea in stories set in various moments and places, reinforcing the connections between them with recurring themes and images. The lengthiest tale, “The End of Days: Vienna 1918,” imagines the final days of Egon and Edith Schiele, both of whom died during the 1918 flu pandemic. In this story and others, MacLaverty evokes contemporary crises through events set in the past, including climate change and the plagues of autocracy and disease. Each selection centers on relationships somehow disrupted by change: death, an accident, surgery, negligence. Relations between elderly parents and adult children provide the plots for many of these stories, a dynamic MacLaverty portrays with tenderness.
VERDICT The 12 stories that make up MacLaverty’s seventh collection emphasize his mastery of image, characterization, and dialogue. He remains one of the most graceful storytellers in modern literature.
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