by Keith Taylor
Although Patrick O'Keeffe has lived in America for a couple of decades now a good deal of that time in Ann Arbor it is clear that his imagination remains firmly rooted in the Ireland he left when he was in his twenties. His first book, The Hill Road, a collection of four long stories, is set in rural Ireland, in and around a fictional village that seems to be hidden somewhere on the map of County Tipperary. The time period of the stories appears to be, for the most part, sometime in the 1960s or 1970s, the time of the generation who came of age just before the country was transformed by the EU economic miracle, when life and all the problems and glories of it was still contained within parish boundaries.
O'Keeffe does many things well in these quiet and evocative stories. He creates a setting with quick and masterful strokes. The four pieces here are connected by the place, the fictional village of Kilkelly and its neighboring towns and landscape. This is the working Irish countryside, still only a small step removed from poverty, certainly pastoral but not the kind of place usually found on postcards. His characters seem as real as my Irish relatives. But this storyteller is particularly good with his use of time. I suspect that either philosophically or constitutionally Patrick O'Keeffe has a sense that all of time is contained in the present moment. All of these stories move easily through chronologies, building tension and plot as moments from the past are placed beside the present, where even the future can be intimated in the weight of the past.
For instance, "The Postman's Cottage" begins with this wonderfully accented paragraph:
Every third or fourth Friday, up till thirty or forty years ago, which is long before milking machines were even heard of, and places not even too far in from the road still didn't have
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