‘The Springs of Affection’ by Maeve Brennan

I’m breaking the rules a little here by highlighting a collection of linked stories united by virtue of their setting, a modest terraced house in the Ranelagh suburb of Dublin – a house featuring the same walled garden with a laburnum tree, the same three steps down to the kitchen, and the same linoleum on the bedroom floor. The autobiographical pieces on Brennan’s childhood which open the collection are followed by a series of stories on the Derdons, a middle-aged couple whose marriage is characterised by an intense emotional distance, something that seems to have developed over several years. Brennan is particularly insightful on the small cruelties of human nature, the tricks we play on one another to score minor victories for the pettiest of reasons. If I had to single out one story, it would be the titular piece featuring Min, the embittered twin sister of the third occupant of the house, Martin Derdon. Min has spent most of her adult life resenting her sister-in-law, Delia, for taking Martin away from his family after their wedding. Now that both Martin and Delia are dead, the elderly Min is ensconced her flat in Wexford where she can wallow in a perverse kind of satisfaction fuelled by jealousy and bitterness, surrounded as she is by the couple’s furniture and former possessions. It’s a brilliant story, shot through with layers of insight and meaning.

First published in The New Yorker. Collected in The Springs of Affection: Stories of Dublin, Mariner Books 1998. It is available to read online here.