" An almost fantastical novel, Hamill's book begins outside Belfast, in the late 1730s. The Carson household seems a placid one, with a hardworking Dad (a blacksmith) and loving Mom. But soon, Hamill reveals tragic then
dangerous details. First, we learn that there were two Carson children who died young. Then, the area's religious tensions surface, with Catholics swiftly deemed Satan's helpers. Luckily, the Carsons are fine upstanding Protestants.
Or are they? Are they even named Carson? Young Cormac doesn't even know the answer to some of these questions himself. In the process of learning, he will experience pain and loss, but also become a man.
One twist: he will become a man in New York City, where he goes on a mission of revenge.
Hamill then guides the reader through the broad Irish experience in New York: prior to the Revolution, when Catholicism was outlawed, through the dark days of the Civil War, including a snapshot of the infamous New York City Draft Riots (which offers a rather different view from that recently seen in the Gangs of New York movie).
Moving more swiftly as the decades progress, Hamill's book concludes with a searing recollection of September 11. But it is way back in the 1730s, when Cormac asks his Da if they are Christians, Catholics or Jews, that we truly get a sense of what Hamill's "Forever" is all about.
Mr. Carson simply tells his son: "We're Irish son, we're Irish."
Ultimately, through Cormac, Hamill portrays New York's massive transformation in a breezy, readable way, right up to September 11.
This is a big historical novel from Hamill, but it's also as unique a portrait of the Irish, New York and America that has come out in a long time. ($25.95 / 608 pages / Little Brown)