We mean it kindly, when we say that a short story contains a novel.
For many of us are novel-lovers, first or only, and, so, this seems a high compliment.
What we are observing is how quickly an author can beckon us into the heart of a character, how deftly she can create a life, with all its dark corners and celebrations, all its monotony and flagrance.
Irina is one of those characters. As a starting place for Gallant reading, “The Ice Wagon Going Down the Street” and “In the Tunnel” are strong choices: much anthologized and complex. But a story like “Irina” is half the length and the whole package.
Readers meet Irina and her grandson, Rini, straight away; he has been sent to spend Christmas with her (and what a timely read, yes, indeed).
Rini needs watching (while his mother recuperates and his father worries for the future of their family unit) and Irina needs company (because she is a widow).