In a Cafe Selected Stories

ISBN: 0141180404
ISBN 13: 9780141180403
By: Mary Josephine Lavin Elizabeth Walsh Peavoy

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1985 89 Authors Abroad Favorites Fiction Irish Irish Short Stories Literary Fiction Reckless Abandonment Short Stories To Read

About this book

On an island teeming with masters of the short story, Mary Lavin's distinct voice and devoted following set her apart. Before her death in 1996, this Irish writer had received many honors and prizes not only for her luminous short stories but also for several highly regarded novels. William Trevor praised Lavin's ability to "make moments timeless, to illuminate people and places, words and things, by touching them with the magic of the rarely-gifted storyteller." In a Cafe makes available for the first time in the United States a collection of her most beloved pieces as compiled by her daughter. In masterworks such as the title story, an unsettling portrayal of widowhood, and "The Will, " which Layin considered the finest expression of her art, the justice in Trevor's declaration we recognize that "the short story of today owes her a very great debt."

Reader's Thoughts


As seen on A Work in Progress.


absolutely incredible collection of short stories. definitely made me think of richard yates, but irish and female and very concerned with widowhood. But similar themes of loneliness and the feeling of drifting in a world that isn't perfect behind the plastic veneer which is slowly cracking... Set mostly in middle class/upper middle class Irish society, Lavin has a really arresting style- the stories are all fairly short and several times I couldn't put the book down. I think I first decided to read some of her stuff because of a reference to her writing at the Cracked Lookingglass exhibit at Princeton- there's a great short story in the new yorker from i-can't-remember-when but Dana and I both read that and thought it was awesome, so she got me this book for my birthday. Lavin really has a lot of stories about widowhood, and I can't exactly relate, but the universal themes of loss/dealing with loss/life after loss are very compelling and everyone can find something in there to chew on.


Not as good as Tales from Bective Bridge, but a nice collection nonetheless. You get a sense that she was much older when she wrote these stories, which is interesting, there's a kind of wisdom to them, but also a warmth and intimacy that isn't in the earlier works. Still though, if you're new to her writing - and she's got to be one of the most under-appreciated short story writers around - I'd recommend starting with some earlier stories first.

A. Mary Murphy

Lavin's daughter selected the stories for this collection, and every editor has criteria in mind, but the resulting whole didn't appeal to me as much as I expected. This isn't my first exposure to Lavin, and I was looking forward a delicious read, but because there are a few lengthy stories included which didn't appeal to me much, which were very unlike the others, I was disappointed at times. I found it an uneven book.


Mary Lavin was presented to me as being in the grand tradition of Irish short story writers, ranked with Joyce and McGahern and William Trevor. So I'm afraid to say that I was a little disappointed in this collection, my first introduction to her work. I'm not sure just what it was about these stories that failed to really ignite my interest: she has as distinct a voice as Trevor or McGahern, to be sure; the themes and settings are certainly familiar (ranging from St. Stephen's Green to Madison Avenue, with plenty of small-town Ireland in the mix). I found the stories which used an omniscient third-person narrator generally more compelling than those which seemed to be drawn from Lavin's own life, oddly enough, which leads me to believe that perhaps we (she and I) are just too different. The stories about widowhood and raising children without benefit of a spouse, or those which featured a writer (clearly her) left me feeling outside. Fiction is supposed to be able to overcome differences such as these; one of us certainly failed. I wanted to like them more.

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