by Orla McAlinden
Review by Julie Carpenter
The Accidental Wife is a remarkably well-developed collection of stories set against the backdrop of Northern Ireland’s Troubles. Each story is the expression of a single player in a complicated history, contributing to the larger story that surrounds them all. The stories radiate from the center of the McCann family and the author moves deftly between characters and generations; the well crafted result is that every story stands on its own but taken as a whole the collection is every bit as satisfying and hard to put down as a novel.
McAlinden does not write like a novice, though this is her first story collection. She changes perspective and voice skillfully so that each character becomes his or her own person. McAlinden handles each change of perspective like a pro, even nailing the notoriously difficult second-person point of view to involve the reader deeply and immediately into the experience of a child. The dialect is also at once authentic and understandable, plunging the reader into the setting and the atmosphere of the time and place.
The beauty of the book is the author’s ability to see stories in otherwise ordinary objects and events - from passing through a checkpoint into Belfast to a too-large hayshed built in a farmer’s field. It is in these ordinary things that the life of the family becomes incarnate. Even the small details, like a pack of cigarettes or a cup of tea have weight and importance, as they often do in the memories of our own lives.
And I think in the end that’s the real beauty of the book. Like all the best books, this one delivers the universal through the particular. In the circumstances of the McCann family, we see not only their troubles and triumphs, we see ourselves. This book comes highly recommended.
Purchase The Accidental Wife