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Claire Keegan might not have been a household name in the United States before her novel, SMALL THINGS LIKE THESE, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize earlier this year. But Keegan has quite a following in her native Ireland, thanks in large part to the widespread popularity of her novella, FOSTER. It was published in a somewhat excerpted form in The New Yorker back in 2010 but was not released as a stand-alone book in the US until now. Readers who fell in love with the quietly powerful prose in SMALL THINGS LIKE THESE will certainly want to pick up FOSTER. And for those who haven't yet discovered Keegan's work, it offers a beautiful place to start.

"FOSTER is an exquisite work of short fiction.... [T]he novella's themes...almost certainly will ensure that it will continue to attract both popular and critical acclaim."

The novella opens on a Sunday at the beginning of summer. A young girl (who remains nameless throughout the book) is being driven by her father across the Irish countryside. At first, we assume that they're seeing some relatives, but it soon becomes clear that this is no ordinary visit. The girl's father intends to leave her with the Kinsellas, a childless couple, for an unspecified length of time. Everyone realizes as he pulls away that he's left nothing for her, not even a change of clothes, so the Kinsellas must provide for everything.

The girl has been sent away because her parents are struggling financially. They have a large family already, with another baby on the way, and her father has a gambling problem. Beyond that, her behavior hints at neglect or worse. When she makes a simple mistake, she fears retribution but instead encounters kindness of a sort that seems unfamiliar to her. The Kinsellas value hard work and openness: "There are no secrets in this house," the woman tells the girl on her first night.

Soon the girl has settled into a routine with the Kinsellas, helping with chores and enjoying games like the one the man invents, timing her run down the driveway to fetch the mail. But she also learns from a loose-lipped neighbor that there are secrets at the Kinsella house that hint at a still-raw tragedy and reveal that they may have as much to gain from her as she does from them.

FOSTER is an exquisite work of short fiction. The novella, like a short story, uses its prose sparingly, with each word given maximum importance and selected with precision and care. Although clues in the novella place it chronologically in the 1980s, Keegan's narrative restraint and the story's rural setting give the work a timeless quality. And, in fact, the novella's themes --- of generosity, selfless love, being surprised by joy --- almost certainly will ensure that it will continue to attract both popular and critical acclaim.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on December 10, 2022

by Claire Keegan

  • Publication Date: November 1, 2022
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press
  • ISBN-10: 080216014X
  • ISBN-13: 9780802160140