Anne Enright growing backwards

Anne Enrights Yesterdays Weather

Anne Enright's "Yesterday's Weather"

Yesterday’s Weather collects nearly twenty years of short stories (including many that have not previously been available for American audiences) by Booker-winner Anne Enright into a single volume. In a brief introduction to the book, Enright notes that she’s chosen to present the stories in reverse chronological order—a wise move, as it turns out, because her more recent stories are vastly superior to the work she was publishing in the late eighties and early nineties. Old and new alike, her stories offer emotionally intense character studies wrapped in dense, funny, sensuous, and tightly-coiled prose. But while many of the earlier stories read as little more than tedious exercises in structure or heavy-handed extensions of dubious metaphors (a woman through handbags in “(She Owns) Every Thing,” a bingo player who sees the world through numbers in “Luck Be a Lady,” etc.), Enright’s newer work adds an invaluable new element: real, substantial insight into the way real people actually think and feel, coupled with an ability to bring those thoughts and emotions to life on the page. In “Honey,” a woman on a business trip debates having an affair with a coworker, but finds herself instead stunned and opened up to the world by an encounter with bees in a garden. Her restless, uncertain desire feels true to life, and when she turns him down, it’s because she realizes that her desire has nothing to do with him at all: “It was like she could fuck anything: the Killarney lakes and the sky that ran over them, the posh hotels with wafflecloth robes, and the pink scent of a rose that showed grey in the darkness, and the whole lovely month of May.” In “Here’s To Love,” an older woman struggles to understand why she loves her husband, and ultimately decides that the question doesn’t matter nearly as much to her as it might to the old boyfriend who she meets in Paris. The opening paragraph of “The Cruise,” made me laugh out loud, but when I re-read it (immediately after reaching the story’s end), it took on an entirely different meaning: a good joke transformed into a moving meditation on death, and on what we can hope to get out of life before we die.

In an introduction to the volume, Enright herself identifies what has made the difference between her old stories and her new ones:

It is odd, but only to me, to read of the bitterness that exists between female friends, when my own girlfriends are so generous and important to me. These stories are not written by the person who has lived my life and made the best of it, they are written by people I might have been but decided against….I discovered, when I started to look at them again, that I had forgotten the content of some of these pieces. What I remembered, with great clarity, was their shape….What I seem to be saying—a little to my own surprise—is that a person may change, but the writer endures.

Enright’s earlier stories feel like formal exercises, because that’s essentially what they were: the work of a talented younger writer who was better than competent, but who simply didn’t yet have the kind of lived experience that she can now draw on in order to infuse her stories with real wisdom and insight.


2 Responses to “Anne Enright growing backwards”

  1. 1 Amy December 5, 2008 at 8:20 PM

    I very much enjoyed reading this review. If you haven’t read Enright before (or not all of her), she has four other books in print in the US. I work for her publisher and you can see more information on her website.

    And, being from the upper midwest myself, it’s a particular pleasure to discover your blog.

  2. 2 goodreadings December 6, 2008 at 8:18 AM

    Thanks—glad to hear you enjoyed the post.

    So far I’ve only read The Gathering, which first brought Enright to my attention, and which I liked a great deal. I’ll definitely have to take a look at her other novels sometime soon.

    And it’s always good to hear from a fellow Midwesterner.

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