Review of Books
It is rare for a first-time novelist to tackle historical events in as refreshing a manner as Patricia Falvey does in The Yellow House. Falvey, born in Newry, Co. Down where her story is situated, immigrated to the States at twenty. Leaving a career at PricewaterhouseCoopers to pursue writing, her debut novel shows a mastery of craft lacking from much of today’s fiction.
Beginning with a dramatic end to a family’s well-being, we are introduced to protagonist Eileen. Her father has been killed in a fire and her mother has run off with her brother Frankie. Eileen, strong-willed and fiery, moves on with her youngest brother to work and eventually restore the yellow house and her life. Falvey controls the story, weaving her characters through the First World War and the Troubles, allowing the characters to be the masters of their own fate rather than falling back on history to guide the plot. Eileen is torn between her instinctive rebelliousness to join the revolutionary cause in Ireland and her new growing wisdom. Readers will be inclined to gluttonously scarf down this novel in one sitting as I did. Take your time reading The Yellow House, you’ll be sad to see the last page.
– Tara Dougherty (352 pages / Center Street / $21.99)
National Book Award finalist Thomas Lynch came forth this February with Apparition & Late Fictions, a novella and four short stories colored by death and set largely in Michigan, where Lynch’s experience as a funeral director has informed his meditations on human experience and the natural world.
While the unfolding of events and emotional developments in the stories sometimes feel contrived, as in “Catch and Release,” about a son coming to terms with his father’s death on a solo fishing trip, the overall effect of Lynch’s spare and straightforward narrative is haunting and satisfying. “Matinee de Septembre,” in which a widowed professor becomes increasingly bewitched during a retreat at Mackinac Island by her surroundings and their inhabitants, is an eerie and successful variation on Thomas Mann’s novella Death in Venice.
The novella in the book, Apparition, is the story of a pastor who achieves success in the public eye by writing a self-help book on his divorce, and Lynch manages to craft it with elements of both deep cynicism and touching naiveté.
– Kara Rota (216 pages / W.W. Norton & Co. / $24.95)
In Double Happiness, a collection of delicately crafted short stories that are simultaneously beautiful and deeply sad, author Mary-Beth Hughes has captured emotional catastrophes and small joys that span time and place. In the title story, recently widowed Ann McCleary takes one of her six young children to the Dairy Queen. When the boy’s sister Kathleen demands an explanation and Ann tells her the boy is sad, Kathleen replies, “We’re all sad,” in an ultimatum that rings true throughout the stories contained in Double Happiness.
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