When the Irish writer Anne Enright is at her best—as she sometimes is in her new collection of stories, Yesterday’s Weather—she yanks her readers almost violently into a story. “There was a new woman behind the counter in the newsagent’s,” she begins “Wife,” “and it took Noel a while to realize that her throat had been slit.” At four-and-a-half pages, “Wife” is claustrophobic and devastating, and the fact that the actual violence remains just beneath the surface, bubbling up but never over, is to Enright’s credit. Only her countryman John McGahern could accomplish so much so briefly. Enright’s narrators, meanwhile, have voices that are tight and idiosyncratic. “The girl died,” begins another story. “Well, what was that to me?” And her women—these stories are overwhelmingly about women—are often exhausted, confused, beside themselves, and unhappy. A cleaning woman charmingly wonders at the fortune of her well-to-do son, only to be stabbed by his only want: “Then he turns around the night before his wedding day, and he says, ‘I never had a father,’ like it was all my fault.” There are thirty-one stories altogether, and it’s perhaps a few too many. Still, how happy it is to slog through a couple clunkers only to turn the page and be slapped around by Enright’s unexpected invitation into “The Portable Virgin”: “Dare to be dowdy! that’s my motto, because it comes to us all—the dirty acrylic jumpers and the genteel trickle of piss down our support tights. It will come to her too.” So much accomplished right there and yet so much to come.

Yesterday’s Weather by Anne Enright (Grove Press, 317 pages)
VQR, 2008