Wakes, christenings, bars, wooden spoons: all the familiar stations and deprivations of Irish and Irish American life (and religion) are to be found in A Devilish Pint, the new collection of stories by Mike Farragher.
But there's a new chaser of animating rage erupting in many of these captivating tales of sin and redemption, and so some of the issues that Ireland and Irish America prefer to sweep under the carpet – abuse, exploitation, bullying for example – also make vivid appearances.
Farragher's name will already be familiar to Irish Voice readers as the author of the papers long running music column “Off the Record,” but more recently he's become known as a novelist and essayist, and this latest collection of stories is his strongest to date.
Grappling with an Irish Catholic conscience (a pas de deux between you and God that never ends) is a life long task, but Farragher is clearly up to it. But don’t anticipate a round of reflexive church bashing. That’s neither his aim nor his interest.
“It’s about faith but it’s not bashing the church,” he tells the Irish Voice. “It’s really very much an evaluation of one man’s faith; hopefully it will help others come to some evaluations in their own lives. And there are some very funny stories in it as well!”
I can vouch for that. In some ways A Devilish Pint is a different direction for the writer who mines Irish American experience, but it’s also a return to his perennial themes.
“My first book was called Collared, a suspense novel that addressed sex abuse scandals in the church. I wrote that back in 2003 and it was fiction,” he explains.
But what he didn’t outline at the time was that it was his way of processing an inappropriate relationship he had had with a predatory religious brother. That process took him years to untangle.
“At my 30th high school reunion last year a number of religious brothers had Collared under their arms waiting for me to sign. They were very eager to tell me how guilty they felt that this abuse happened on their watch. I found myself going from being an abuse victim to a comforter,” Farragher said.
“Comforting the very order that produced this person, and so I literally just wrote the new essay ‘The Collared One’ to better understand my world.”
But the fictional device he had used in the first book is gone this time. He’s not hiding behind fiction or humor any more.
“It was very easy for me to forgive that predatory clergyman for what he did, but it took me 10 or 12 years later to forgive myself. I would tell myself, I should have known better, how could I have been so stupid?”
Raising teenagers of his own now, he began to realize that the early teenage years are a time of great vulnerability and transition. If he hadn’t been able to handle what had happened to him at that age, he really couldn’t have been expected to. He decided to give himself a break.
“I decided to forgive myself for everything I did and everything I didn’t do. Writing has always been a place for me to understand what’s going on inside myself.”
The longer he waited to forgive his abuser, the more the power he gave him, Farragher says.
“It’s just like a bully in school. The more real estate you give them in your brain the more power you give them over you.”
Now Farragher’s faith has changed, he says. “Now I believe is that God is a creator and we are at our most God-like when we are creating our own lives and not being disempowered in any way. The disempowering of doubt, fear and what the neighbors will think is the devil’s work. God wants you to live your full potential.”
But aren’t fear and doubt and concern about the neighbors’ opinions as native to Irish culture as fine whiskey? Aren’t you disavowing your own inheritance in way? Aren’t you divesting yourself of some major cultural baggage?
“Well, what’s so interesting is that the Irish are known for being rebels and poets. But in fact there’s so few of us. The vast majority never breaks out of their fears and doubts of what the neighbors think,” Farragher said.
“The thing about giving yourself permission to live and express yourself as boldly as you dream of is that it gives the people who love you permission to do the same.”
His family has been on this literary journey with him he explains. “I didn’t have encouragement for doodling outside the lines of what was considered safe or acceptable, but my own kids will not be raised like that.”
Many of the stories in A Devilish Pint contain hilarious moments, but they have a new level of conviction that allows the sharp edges to remain sharp. It’s his wisest and best work.
Farragher will read and sign copies of A Devilish Pint on September 14 at the Sea Girt Lighthouse in New Jersey at 8 p.m., a Rock and Read event with the May Darlings.
On September 17 he will be at the Clinton Book Shop in New Jersey; two days later he will be at Booktowne in Manasquan New Jersey.
Here's are the dates for Farragher's upcoming book tour:
- Sun, 9/6 Irish Centre, 1120 3rd Ave. Spring Lake, NJ 2-4PM www.irishcentre.net
- Mon, 9/14 Sea Girt Lighthouse 9 Ocean Avenue Sea Girt, NJ 8PM a "Rock and Read" Event with The May Darlings www.seagirtlighthouse.com
- Thu, 9/17 Clinton Book Shop 12 E. Main St. Clinton, NJ Halfway to St. Patrick's Day "Rock and Read" Event with Thomas Johnston check website for time www.clintonbookshop.com
- Sat, 9/19 Booktowne, 171 Main Street, Manasquan, NJ 6-7PM www.booktowne.com
- Tue, 10/20 The Cell Theater, Irish American Writer and Artist Night, 338 W. 23rd St. NYC 7PM