In the Middle of the Fields by Mary Lavin
In the Middle of the Fields
Mary Lavin’s eighth collection, which first appeared in 1967 – 25 years after the publication of Tales from Bective Bridge – includes the “widow” stories, featuring Vera in various stages of loss, anger and loneliness. Raw sexual anticipation and wariness prevail in The Cuckoo-spit, in which she considers new possibility with an edgy, much younger man. It is a powerful, fraught narrative, true to the fragmented, stilted parry of such encounters. By far the finest work is The Mock Auction, a lively novella revealing immaculate comic timing as Miss Lomas, the housekeeper of Brook Farm – part of a large country estate – becomes caught up in a legal scam to defy greedy in-laws inheriting. Two sudden deaths create a whirlwind of change, leaving Miss Lomas marooned as her cosy grandeur begins to decay and her delusions evaporate. She is a fighter, and her plight acquires pathos. Seeing off the hapless usurper, she believes in the desperate miracle she decides to instigate, forsaking all sense of embarrassment, but not our sympathy, in her devious pursuit of it.