Chestnut Street in Dublin, Ireland, is shaped like a horseshoe, with a “big bit of grass in the middle beside some chestnut trees,” and “thirty small houses in a semicircle.” These houses are inhabited by scores of fascinating human beings, however ordinary, who figure in these stories by Maeve Binchy, written between novels. Now, after her death in 2012 at 72, they are finally being published. Most use old-fashioned O. Henry endings to resolve problems or clarify situations in unexpected ways—illuminating the lives of the people involved and, incidentally, warming the hearts of readers.
Even though they share the world of Chestnut Street, each family lives a life of its own, occasionally bouncing off one another as neighbors. In my favorite story, “Ivy,” a lonely, old-fashioned girl who wishes people would write letters instead of email, wins a computer. On a local bulletin board she asks for someone to give her computer lessons in exchange for cooking lessons. “By far the best” offer comes from a 12-year-old boy named Sandy, who lives with his grandfather. The outcome is short and sweet and cuts off a story you would prefer to hear more of, but that is how it is with these little gems: The ending is the point, not anything that comes before.
Though many of these little slices of life are too short for nuance, they are all undemanding and delightful. The more you read, the more you want to read, which makes the fact that Chestnut Street is Binchy’s final collection as poignant an ending as any in her oeuvre.