Book reviews: recently published books of Irish and Irish-American interest
– Kara Rota
($26.00 / 336 pages / Scribner)
Bill Loehfelm’s first novel Fresh Kills was hailed by the Associated Press as the “finest crime fiction debut since Dennis Lehane burst onto the scene.” High praise indeed for Loehfelm, who, like Lehane, explores the lives of “working class Irish Catholics” (as Loehfelm himself put it in an interview with USA Today).
Loehfelm has now published his second novel, Bloodroot, a thought-provoking psychological thriller that revolves around brothers Kevin and Danny Curran. The Staten Island siblings are updated versions of Cain and Abel: good and bad brothers who can’t untangle themselves from each other. Kevin is a college professor while Danny is a drug addict with a terrible childhood secret. Loehfelm masterfully portrays the complicated Curran family past, as he vividly brings to life a slice of New York rarely seen, unless tinged with disdain or sentimentality. In the end, however, Bloodroot is a triumph because of the characters and the collision courses – psychological, familial, criminal – Loehfelm sets up. The Brooklyn-born, Staten Island-reared Loehfelm now lives in New Orleans. But his literary heart remains in hidden corners of New York, which, in two books now, he has shown he owns the way Lehane owns Boston, and Ken Bruen owns Galway.
– Tom Deignan
($25.95 / 336 pages / Putnam)
Julie Powell made her mark on the culinary and literary worlds by cooking her way through Julia Child’s The Art of French Cooking and blogging about it, an ambitious feat that inspired the 2009 movie Julie & Julia starring Meryl Streep and Amy Adams. Her recent memoir, Cleaving: A Story of Meat, Marriage and Obsession, published in December, has garnered controversial reviews for its arguably sordid content and allegedly self-indulgent voice: the title’s metaphor describes the book’s focus on Julie’s dysfunctional extramarital affair, struggling marriage and sojourn to find self-worth through taking up the art of butchery. Taking place in the aftermath of her sudden success, it is part travelogue (late in the book, Powell embarks on a “Grand Meat Tour” of Argentina, the Ukraine and Tanzania), part confessional, and part cookbook (in the style of Nora Ephron’s Heartburn).
The visceral descriptions of how animals are transformed into cuts of meat are transfixing but not for the faint of heart, and the same can be said for the details of Powell’s personal life. However, there are passages that shine through with elegance and clarity, as gratifying as the crown roast that Powell wrestles into existence for her family’s Christmas dinner. A self-described “oversharer,” Powell pulls no punches in this sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes revolting, sometimes empowering, and unfailingly honest memoir.
– Kara Rota
($24.99 / 320 pages / Little, Brown & Company)
Cissie’s Abattoir is a memoir of growing up in Waterford in the sixties and seventies, a place author Éibhear Walshe describes as covered in tepid, grey rainwater. His saving grace from boredom and bullying is Cissie, Walshe’s sparkplug of a grandmother, who runs a family-owned abattoir and is a hotel landlady. Well-known for her chain smoking, sarcastic remarks, and glamorous outfits, Cissie’s lovable quirkiness and confidence enchant her grandson, who spends his afternoons watching her combat the mundane with flair. Their relationship is pivotal for Walshe, who vividly describes his struggle with growing up gay among relentlessly cruel peers. While Cissie is not overly affectionate, Walshe finds solace in her free-spirited indifference, and she in turn helps him by giving him a job in the abattoir when his loneliness becomes too much to handle. Despite his desire to escape his hometown, Walshe recounts both his family history and the history of Waterford’s landmarks and people in a way that is engrossing, funny, and deeply personal. From St. Otteran’s mental hospital to the sweets shops in town, Cissie shines through every page as a reminder to live adamantly as who you are, with knowledge of the pain in getting there.
- An open letter in strong defence of capitalism.
- Sarah Palin is saving Christmas
- Racist incidents in Ireland up by 85 percent...
- Gay teacher fired from Catholic school after...
- Virginia governor slammed by doctor over...
- Irish drugs mule to escape full trial and...
- Top Christmas Irish ads that will be bring...
- Irish radio presenter suspended after anti-Isra
- Families as well as Catholic Church and governm
- Hollywood star Gabriel Byrne brands new Pope...