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Review of Books

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Recommended

Roddy Doyle, bestselling Irish author of The Commitments, has completed his Last Roundup trilogy about IRA rebel Henry Smart with the epic and engrossing finale The Dead Republic. The series, which includes novels A Star Called Henry and Oh! Play That Thing and spans the 20th-century history of Ireland, traces the journey of the legendary character as he passes through identities, escapes and losses, encountering historical figures and events in Ireland and America on the way.

The third installment, which takes the reader up to the present day, opens on the aging Henry’s return to Ireland for the first time since his 1922 escape, one of his legs and his darling wife and children long lost. He is rescued on the verge of dying in the California desert by Henry Fonda and becomes a writer/IRA consultant collaborating with famed director John Ford in the making of The Quiet Man.

Henry’s memories are drawn out of him in interrogation-like sessions, from his work as an assassin to what songs his wife, legendary rebel Miss O’Shea whose role is taken up in Ford’s film by the illustrious Maureen O’Hara, used to sing. Smart and Ford’s relationship is complex and elegantly rendered, its contentiousness and intimacy eventually coming to a head. After parting ways with Hollywood, Henry becomes the caretaker at a boys’ school in a quiet village north of Dublin, but there’s more to the inner workings of the school than initially meets the eye. He begins gardening for an old woman named Missus O’Kelly, whose familiarity hints at a secret life long past.

As he grows old and older, Smart’s political involvement and rebel past remain an integral part of him; they will not die until he does. The theme at the heart of the novel is the idea of Irishness: who gets to decide what it means to be Irish, to love Ireland, and the bloody violence that follows the question.

                                    – Kara Rota

($26.95 / 329 pages / Viking)

Fiction

I  read Irish-American author Jonathan Dee’s new novel, The Privileges, in one sitting. Meaning to start a few pages before bed, I stayed up for hours, transfixed. The Privileges is a delectable work spanning twenty-some years in the lives of Adam and Cynthia Morey, a young, ambitious bride and groom described in their wedding toast as ‘a charmed couple.’ Jonathan Franzen called the book “a cunning, seductive novel about the people we thought we’d all agreed to hate.” This is accurate: the Moreys, from the beginning, are perfect to the point of alienation. They smugly taunt their parents’ awe of them and shrug off siblings, instead insulating their nuclear family with an exponentially growing layer of wealth and privilege. Their likeability is a feat of Dee’s artful prose.

Dee’s novel is neither an indictment nor a glorification, but a painstaking, bitingly clever and intimate depiction of a family for whom no goal is unattainable, no achievement great enough. Cynthia and Adam marry at twenty-two, eager to free themselves from the small lives their parents inhabit and create a world together where anything is possible. Adam’s business drive and charm catapult him effortlessly into his boss’s favor, but also keep him unsatisfied with climbing the corporate ladder even at an accelerated pace. He moves to insider trading, amassing wealth that becomes essentially meaningless to Cynthia as she struggles to find purpose, realizing employment will be unnecessary for the rest of her life. Their children April and Jonas, who grow to adulthood over the course of the book, try to carve out identities separate from their parents’ legacy and flirt dangerously with their own mortality in the process.

Dee is a gifted author of four previous novels and a staff writer for The New York Times Magazine. In a novel that smartly takes on complex issues of risk, reward, and happiness, his talent is irrefutable.

– Kara Rota

 ($25.00 / 272 pages / Random House)

Lisa Moore is a Canadian author of two short story collections, Degrees of Nakedness (1995) and Open (2002), which was nominated for the Giller Prize, and a previous novel, Alligator (2005) which won the 2006 Commonweath Writers’ Prize Best Book Award. Moore’s second novel, February, is set against the backdrop of a historical event in 1982, when the oil rig Ocean Ranger sunk in the Atlantic off the coast of Newfoundland. Eighty-four men aboard died.

Heroine Helen O’Mara, widowed in the shipwreck, is left alone to raise four small children and piece together a life absent of her beloved young husband Cal. In a nonlinear, cyclical chronology, Helen’s interior narrative sometimes painstakingly recreates the events surrounding the catastrophe that left her widowed, sometimes recalls from the perspective of age the recklessness of her and Cal’s ephemeral time together, and sometimes focuses on the present as Moore explores what it means to be a woman alone and aging, the simultaneous desire and evasion Helen feels about forging another romantic connection later in life.

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