Cornell writes with a burnished melancholy and a soft wit, rolling out an undulating series of elegant images. . . . She writes model short stories: lucid, inventive and teeming with overlapped memories, like creamier versions of William Trevor's wry fables of unfulfillment.
The stories in this extraordinary collection are set in Northern Ireland, specifically Belfast, the center for more than thirty years of fighting between Roman Catholic nationalists and Protestants loyal to the British crown. Cornell is not preoccupied, however, with the details of the war. Her stories explore the emotional and psychological consequences of the struggle to endure not only violence, but loss, failure, and the inability to believe.
This beautifully written collection of stories tells how the beleaguered, ordinary folks living in Belfast manage to keep their faith alive and their souls together. . . A book full of tenderness and compassion.
The stories offer naturally maturing plots and characters as well as emotional and psychological responses to a life laden with war-zone ethics, unemployment, poverty, and the challenge of daily survival. . . . Cornell's narrators, usually daughters, speak as awakened children, realistic and without romantic ideals. They seem lost innocents, confused and frustrated by the future they will inherit: alcoholism, unemployment, depression, grief. Yet beneath the disparity, they desperately hope to discover some truth, some strength that may save them.
Cornell's vignettes are strong, impassioned portraits of very different people and how they cope with their Irish heritage of violence: literary yet accessible pieces which go beyond the usual cliches.
Cornell's stories . . . are reminiscent of Flannery O'Connor's plots, but with a crucial difference. Cornell's stories end with a redemption of love, whether it be familial, religious, or marital. Cornell's characters are swept up in the tide of love, or at the very least, they experience a recognition of love as the grace which gives life its value.