‘Bluebell Meadow’ by Benedict Kiely

Bluebell Meadow by Benedict Kiely, 1975

The magic trick:

Combining personal nostalgia with massive, world-changing events

The nostalgia brought brilliantly to life in the stories of John Updike and Stuart Dybek could be called more self-enclosed than the nostalgia in “Bluebell Meadow.”

Dybek is a genius, but his nostalgia is mainly concerned with the personal relationship over time with place.

Updike is a genius, but his nostalgia is mainly concerned with the personal relationship over time with himself.

The nostalgia here is much broader and, well, let’s be honest, more important. I’m not saying that personal nostalgia isn’t important. I love it. And Dybek and Updike have written some of my favorite short stories. But with “Bluebell Meadow,” we’re talking about heady stuff. We’re talking about the seeds of civil war. We’re talking about neighborhoods changing because they’ve been detonated in terrorist attacks. We’re talking about families torn apart, lives ruined.

Remarkably, with “Bluebell Meadow,” we’re also talking about the personal nostalgia of aging and love. It’s a powerful, powerful story.

And that’s quite a trick on Kiely’s part.

The selection:

This is how the park happens to be a sort of an island. The river comes out of deep water, lined and overhung by tall beeches, and round a right-angled bend to burst over a waterfall and a salmon leap. On the right bank and above the fall a sluice-gate regulates the flow of a millrace. A hundred yards downstream the millrace is carried by aqueduct over a rough mountain stream or burn coming down to join the river. Between river and race and mountain stream is a triangular park, five or six acres, seats by the watersides, swings for children, her favourite seat under a tall conifer and close to the corner where the mountain stream meets the river. The place is called Bluebell Meadow.The bluebells grow in the woods on the far side of the millrace.

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