Maeve Binchy's Sly Structure

Maeve Binchy crafts stories the old-school way:  with foreshadowing, significant objects, narrative worldliness, and snap-shut structure. In the case of "The Wrong Suitcase," she caps all these satisfying elements with a mutual d√©nouement that emits just enough acridity to save the somewhat musty premise of the story from spongey resolution.  It's a nice combo of savory and sweet, like Earl Grey and scones.

On the PRI: Selected Shorts podcast, Cynthia Nixon makes parallel petulance funny by keeping the dual-narrator switchbacks brisk.  She uses a subtle voice-register shift to signal POV transitions, and she inhabits both characters with verve.  Alan, the male narrator, is entertainingly harrumphy, and thinks things like: "the machinery of the morrow," and "a flashy-looking sponge bag with some goo from the chemist in it." Annie, the female narrator, is preoccupied with toiletries, and might have come across as a wan version of Edna O'Brien's Country Girls, but Nixon makes her spunky enough.

The story lasts about 20 minutes on a podcast--long enough to unpack that case from two weekends ago.  It's the second story on the 2/9/2009 PRI: Selected Shorts episode titled "Unexpected Developments." (Fast-forward to minute 38.) The first story is "Summer People," by Shirley Jackson, a story which despises its main character too much, and whose foreshadowing wears anvil-shanked boots, which is a shame, because I thought Rene Auberjonois did a good job with the down-Maine accents.

"Unexpected Developments," a PRI: Selected Shorts Podcast, is available on iTunes and also the NPR podcast website (this show updates Mondays at 9 p.m.).  For copyright reasons the episodes are only available for free downloading for approximately one month, after which time they can be purchased on compilation CDs.

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