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.

From “Pelican Song,” about a grown daughter unable to extricate her mother from a life of domestic abuse that she has repeatedly chosen, to “Rome,” about a young girl becoming increasingly party to her father’s infidelities, the stories often revolve around the devastating theme of children suffering for the indiscretions of the grown-ups that surround them and dictate their realities.
– Kara Rota (148 pages / Black Cat, an imprint of Grove/Atlantic, Inc. / $15.00)

Simultaneously a thriller, mystery and romance, Darling Jim began when author Christian Moerk found an old newspaper clipping describing the mysterious murders of three sisters and their aunt in their suburban Dublin home. Moerk decided to transform the gruesome event into an otherworldly love tale, weaving the tradition of Irish storytelling into his characters’ lives as well as his own narrative.

Beginning in the coastal town of Malahide, the novel delves head on into the horrific discovery of the corpses. However, only two of the sisters’ bodies are found. The third Walsh sister, Fiona, has vanished, leaving in her wake a diary that tells of an intense romance that is far from over. To complicate matters, the local mailman discovers the diary just as an alluring stranger, Jim, shows up in town. The Walsh sisters are strong enough to resist Jim’s charms, but are they in too deep when they begin to uncover his past?

Moerk keeps the mystery going by slowly unfolding the story through entries from the sisters’ diaries. With rich, detailed language that envelops the reader from the first page, Moerk’s unique spin on Irish mythology combines the grisly with the magical for a suspenseful read.
– Aliah O’Neill (288 pages / Holt Paperbacks / $15.00)

Larry Kirwan, frontman of Black 47 and author of Green Suede Shoes, returns with Rockin’ the Bronx, another story of the Irish experience in America, this time through the eyes of Sean Kelly, a recent immigrant who comes to the Bronx in search of his girlfriend Mary. What he finds, based on Kirwan’s lurid descriptions, is an urban wasteland: the Irish stronghold on Bainbridge Avenue is barely a comfort in this utterly bizarre landscape, full of garbage, crime, and violence. Kirwan’s choice to set the novel in the early 80s increases the general tension of the story; among the novel’s many tribulations are the death of Bobby Sands, the destitution of drug addiction, and the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, all amid the struggle to survive in a place far from its idyllic status across the Atlantic.