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  • The Bossy Bookworm

Review of Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan

Keegan's slim book may seem cozy and quiet at first, but she beautifully illuminates tiny moments alongside momentous decisions and explores how together, they form a person and make up a whole life.

It seemed both proper and at the same time deeply unfair that so much of life was left to chance.

What is it about stories set in an Irish village and how much I love them? I've had Small Things Like These on my to-read list for a while, but after recently talking to my friend Jamie about it I moved it way up.

Keegan's Small Things Like These is a slim novel about a small Irish town in the weeks leading up to Christmas 1985.

When Bill, a good-hearted coal merchant, discovers something shocking while making his regular delivery to the local convent, he must decide whether to carry on his way or to consider the uncomfortable implications of the Catholic church's deep influence on the community. Similarly, when he stumbles onto a truth about his own mysterious heritage--a mystery he felt he had made peace with--he must decide whether it changes his feelings about his childhood and his identity. The two issues are intertwined, and it's a joy to watch the manner in which Bill copes with both instances.

The story comes alive through the little moments Keegan highlights; while she explores decisions often determined by instinctual black-and-white, right-and-wrong judgments, she also digs into the intense struggle involved in reaching out from comfortable safety and taking a risk in order to do what feels right.

Small Things Like These illustrates how a series of what may seem like largely inconsequential moments and one's reactions to them can together form the framework that makes up a person's sense of self.

Keegan takes the small moments, impulses, generosities, omissions, and aversions that make up a day, a week, and a month and lays them alongside Big Moments of Realization--which often require grace and forgiveness, other times action and defiance--and with all of this in hand, she paints a picture full of the nuances choices, self-reflection, and possibilities that form the basis of a life.

The worst was yet to come, he knew. Already he could feel a world of trouble waiting for him behind the next door, but the worst that could have happened was also already behind him; the thing not done, which could have been--which he would have had to live with for the rest of his life.

The quiet main protagonist Bill is a hero; he musters forgiveness for painful events in his past while developing a mounting unwillingness to look the other way in the face of injustice. His grace and empathy guide him in all, and his story is beautiful to read.

I listened to Small Things Like These as an audiobook.

Do you have any Bossy thoughts about this book?

Claire Keegan is also the author of Foster, Antarctica, Walk the Blue Fields, The Forester's Daughter, and So Late in the Day.

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