Irish Girls About Town
by Maeve Binchy, Marian Keyes, Cathy Kelly, Colette Caddle, Joan O' Neill, Catherine Barry, Gemma O'Connor, Mary Ryan, Sarah Webb, Julie Parsons, Martina Devlin, Annie Sparrow, Catherine Dunne, Marisa Mackle, Tina Reilly, and Morag Prunty; contemporary (2002)
Pocket, 6.99, ISBN 1-903650-26-7


1.00 or Euro 1.27 of every copy of this book sold goes to Bernardo's, an UK charity for children, and the Society of St Vincent de Paul in Ireland, a charity aimed at helping the poor. The preface has a sob story about some poor, homeless single mother teenager finding love and self-esteem via social welfare.

Then can someone tell me why the hell do so many authors in this anthology write about women letting men trample all over them in the name of "I Need A Man Before I Hit 30 NOW"? Are they all running for a spot in Irish politics? They have the doublespeak down pat. Kudos to Mary Ryan, especially, for contributing a story about victimization that culminates in a drug-induced date rape of a too-stupid-to-live heroine. "Tina", the single mother teen in the preface, must be thrilled to read the novella when she gets her complimentary copy.

Actually, Irish Girls About Town isn't a fully chick-lit anthology. The stories here run gamut across various genres, from macabre to drama to humor. Predominantly, the chick-lit authors hog the limelight by their sheer number, but there are some surprises here and there.

Take Maeve Binchy's Carissima. A Beaches-like tale of friendship, women playing doormats, and other jolly fun stuff, "Ms Too Good To Be Called Romance Author" Binchy here writes as if she craps this stuff out while she was asleep. Either that or the spirit of Cassie Edwards has possessed her. Slow, clumsy, clunky, and completely devoid of any of the elegant prose I hear Binchy is famous for, Carissima is so badly written that it's quite shocking. I mean, gee, it's Maeve Binchy, people.

Romantic suspense author Gemma O'Connor blends Hitchcockian macabre and anti-French pariochia in Your Place Or Mine?. What happens when silly Irish folks move to a French farmland where the residents have secrets of their own? This one is cute, especially how it sticks it deep to the Frenchies as well as the Irish when portraying their follies. Ms O'Connor obviously practices equal opportunity and I like that.

I love Marian Keyes' Soulmates, the only unashamedly and most honest piece about jealousy and bitchiness. Compared to the other "This is romantic because here I am, a woman, clinging on to a man who does me wrong but hey, I HAVE to have him because I won't get any other man if I let him go, and... and... hey, put down that gun, please, no no NOOOO!" nonsense in this anthology, Soulmates is a lovely and short piece of fluff. Georgia and Joel are soulmates. They are both beautiful, perpetually rich and successfully, have great fashion sense, are the epitome of cool, and they are the Best Heterosexual Couple ever. Right? Their friends, envious and seething with jealousy, sit back and smile even as they wait for the downfall of the Most Perfect Heterosexual Couple Ever. But will that ever happen?

It does, but it does in a hilarious way that makes the jealous friends stumped and flabbergasted. Let's just say even when they break down in style, Joel and Georgia are still the Most Perfect Heterosexual Couple ever. I hate them. Let me join the "friends" and bitch about them too. Heh.

I love chick lit stuff when they are open about their malice and bitchiness.

Which is why rebound/whine/wanna-man-any-man pieces by Catherine Barry, Marisa Mackle, and company blur into one indistinguishable morass after a while. Annie Sparrow does the sad woman story with a touch of elegant prose in The Unlovable Woman - I'm still witholding judgements about that one, it's lovely to read but it depresses me. Like I said above, Mary Ryan is the literary Todd Solondz. The lovely lady cheerfully sets up her characters to be humiliated, abused, and victimized beyond redemption, and she expects me to cheer the losers on. No thanks, I'm too old to play the schoolyard bully. (Off topic: I walked out on Todd Solondz's Storytelling and that Dollhouse movie. I can't take that man's misanthropy and petty cruelty on his characters. He makes Neil LaBute look like Albert Schweitzer.)

But the highlight has to be Catherine Barry's The Twenty-Eighth Day, a lovely romantic piece about PMS. Yes, PMS. The heroine is on a PMS-bent rampage, only to shed a few tears when she realize that her husband isn't making fun of her, he's actually... well, he's just being romantic, and she's just happening to be PMSing when he's doing that. Funny, too-real, and with just the right amount of emotion to work, The Twenty-Eighth Day makes PMS actually, er, romantic. Now that's genius.

All in all, Irish Girls About Town is a mixed bag. All the authors here are, or claim to be, Irish, so they are the Irish girls in the anthology title as much as their characters. But by running gamut across the board with no coherent theme or direction and with varying qualities in the process, this anthology is mostly half-baked. Still, it's for a good cause, so hey, people, buy this book and help some kiddies in need, will ya?

Rating: 75


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