Desert Isle Keeper
Cracks in My Foundation
This recent collection of stories and essays by Marian Keyes epitomizes my favorite aspect of her writing: her ability to take any situation, from the most mundane to the most depressing, and point out even the smallest kernels of humor. She always manages to do it in an appealing way, so that the reader identifies with her instead of finding her flippant. Even in “Beyond My Wildest Dreams”, wherein she describes her addiction to alcohol and her stay in rehab (reminiscent of Rachel’s Holiday), she is able to point out the positive side of things. For example, when she’s depressed about bad reviews and is desperate for a drink, she can curl up in bed with two slices of Marks & Spencer chocolate cheesecake instead.
The selections range in tone from lighthearted to deeply serious, and cover a wide variety of subjects, from makeup and shopping to alcoholism and charity work. The trade paperback flips over so that the essay side is opposite the short story side. The essays are grouped by topic, such as traveling, beauty, home and family, and a serious chapter where Keyes discusses her battle with alcohol and her involvement with various charities, with such vivid descriptions of orphans’ living conditions it brings tears. “Stack’n’fly” describes a proposed form of travel, where the traveler just receives a shot at the check-in desk, and is unconscious during the entire flight, the delays, the waiting for a gate, etc. Wouldn’t this enhance security measures a great deal.
“Hair-brained” illustrates the dilemma of changing hairstylists, especially when they both work in the same salon. “The Real Thing” describes Keyes’ encounter with a psychic, who really only wants travel information for Dublin and very reluctantly gives Keyes a reading, taking eight tries to get her grandmother’s name right. In “Life Begins”, Keyes describes the empowerment she feels to finally stand up for herself after her 40th birthday, and thinking that she might finally be a grown-up. “Concerned” is a serious essay about a visit to Ethiopia to see the projects of an Irish charity, and includes descriptions of different people being helped and whose lives have been affected by AIDS. “Rebuilding Children” is about another charity group, To Russia With Love, and the orphanage which Irish donors have helped recreate and the orphans whose childhoods have been improved.
The book also includes six short stories that embody the style and charm Keyes’ readers are used to finding in her novels. “A Moment of Grace” is about an angel sent to earth on a training course, and is supposed to commit each of the seven deadly sins in order to understand humans better. She lands in Los Angeles as an actress, and while she is willing to commit the sins, she doesn’t actually understand what most of them are. The first one she comes across is Envy, in perfume form. She finally figures out the rest, and she also accidentally influences the lives of the people around her, all the while remaining confused about life on earth.
In “A Woman’s Right to Shoes”, Alice’s husband has just left her for her shoe-shopping buddy, who has not only made off with Alice’s husband but also with all of her left shoes. Alice begins a shaming campaign down at the local pub, showing up every night with her right foot shod and her left foot in stockings. And anyone who has ever idealized the characteristics of a past love will appreciate “Precious”, in which the main character takes years to realize that she has unreasonably built up her memories of her ex-boyfriend, so much that she can’t get close to anyone else. “Soulmates” is about the kind of couple almost too perfect to be true, but so nice you can’t quite hate them. “The Truth is Out There” is a cute story about a friendly little alien visiting earth, and the English girl he falls in love with, while helping her to get over her selfish boyfriend. “Under” is a more serious story about a woman in a coma who can hear the voices of her visitors in the hospital, and whose story we gradually piece together based on the confidences of her visitors, and her reactions to them.
Keyes’ fans will also appreciate “the Mammy Walsh Problem Page”, where the mother of the main characters of Watermelon, Angels, and Rachel’s Holiday dispenses advice and offers a few unsolicited opinions on such topics as feminism, lesbians and vegetarians (the last two are only “looking for a bit of notice”, as Mammy Walsh puts it).
Most of the pieces have been previously published in major magazines and newspapers like Marie Claire, Abroad, and The Guardian. This collection is definitely worth reading, and anyone who has yet to read any of Marian Keyes’ work will find themselves in for a treat.