The Souvenir Museum by Elizabeth McCracken review – delightful domestic stories

The American author’s latest collection takes a brighter turn as it delves into families ‘of all flavours’

I was still on the first page of Elizabeth McCracken’s new collection of stories, where a couple drive out of Dublin – “It was 10pm and raining. If Ireland was emerald she couldn’t say” – when I sighed with pleasure at being back in her sharp-witted world. She writes both novels and stories and her last collection, Thunderstruck (2014), was infused with grief. The Souvenir Museum is brighter and cheerier – up to a point – as the sunny yellow cover with a balloon animal on it suggests.

The subject is families, those people there’s no escaping from because we’re made of the same stuff. McCracken’s families aren’t warring: they’re good natured at heart and she has a gift for spotting the comic potential in situations many of us have endured, such as attending our first family event with a new partner (The Irish Wedding, where Sadie “would have to perform as herself in front of Jack’s family”). Her prose is stippled with just-so observations, as in the title story where a souvenir is “a memory you could plan to keep instead of the rubble of what happened” and Joanna notices her son having “thoughts all the time that she hadn’t put in his head, which she knew was the point of having children but destroyed her”.

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