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Small Things Like These


Small Things Like These

SMALL THINGS LIKE THESE is a small book. Literally. Its trim size is petite, and the story itself is told in 114 pages. However, as small as all the elements of the physical book are, the novel packs a terrible gut punch that readers won’t soon forget.

A father of five girls discovers an ugly secret about the Catholic Church, enacted in his own backyard. The year is 1985, and the truth about some of the more disturbing aspects of the church’s hold over its parishioners and the lies created in order to protect the church comes to light.

"[A]s small as all the elements of the physical book are, the novel packs a terrible gut punch that readers won’t soon forget."

In 1996, Ireland’s last Magdalene laundry was finally closed down. Nuns forced women to hunker down in them, concealed, incarcerated and laboring for no money and a pittance of a living. Many of them lost babies --- babies who were deemed unworthy of life, dying, or being adopted to families that didn’t know where they had actually come from. The historian Catherine Corless made public shocking discoveries in 2014 that almost 800 children had perished between 1925 and 1961 in one particular home in County Galway. These institutions (there were many throughout Ireland) were financed by the church and the Irish state. The terrors of unwed mothers were made very concrete in such places.

Claire Keegan, a short story writer, does not waste a single word in presenting the fears and shame of this reality through the discovery of a country gentleman who would never expect to be caught up in such a tumultuous and depraved situation. Naturally, a story like this might be more intensely executed through the heart and soul of a woman who had similar experiences or through the eyes of a nun who thought she was only doing what her faith expected of her. By making the protagonist a man who discovers just one of the many victims of this ill-conceived system, Keegan ensures that the story will find a larger audience for its unsettling contents. And perhaps, since the church is run by white men in the Irish state, it is more impactful that a man find out the ugly truth.

There is an appreciated level of anger in the way that Keegan tells her story. She wastes no time in helping Bill Furlong understand the dangerous situation that he has happened upon. It is an emotionally quiet but powerful tale that uses brevity to draw us in and give us access to the most feeling part of our empathetic selves. Politically, it is not a parable but a seasoned piece of fiction that exemplifies the tone of injustice in a compelling manner.

SMALL THINGS LIKE THESE is small in everything but its enraged heart. It is a novel for these ages as the veils of vaunted institutions like the church peel to onion skin thinness. We see the Wizard behind the curtain, and it is yet another clarion call for change through the power of artfully told stories.

Reviewed by Jana Siciliano on December 17, 2021

Small Things Like These
by Claire Keegan

  • Publication Date: November 30, 2021
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press
  • ISBN-10: 0802158749
  • ISBN-13: 9780802158741