A conventional Irish-American first novel with all expected elements—close-knit families, suffocating religiosity, and mordant fatalism—that nonetheless movingly celebrates love and true grit. Troy, New York, is home to the Malloy clan. Once Shanty Irish, they are now working their way up to better things. As the story begins in 1964, Uncle Pat Malloy, who worked on the railroad, falls and freezes to death; later that year beloved Uncle Johnny, a firefighter, sickens and dies. The year of tragedies ends with the death on Christmas day of Clare and Mike Malloy's infant son. All these deaths are described in alternate chapters, mostly by Mike, Clare, and their two daughters, teenage Maureen (Mo) and younger sister Margie. Clare had not wanted the baby—it meant giving up teaching and losing the income which supplemented Mike's post office job—but had soon adjusted to the prospect, which made the loss even harder to bear. It is only assuaged by working hard on brother-in-law Danny Malloy's successful mayoral campaign. But the real focus of the story, despite brief appearances of Clare's ``lace-curtain'' Irish family, who look down on the Malloys though their own money was made bootlegging during Prohibition, is young Mo. Beautiful and talented, she is encouraged by Clare to excel academically. She does, graduating with a full scholarship, but the fabled luck of the Irish is a capricious thing. Mo falls in love with Jewish fellow student David Marcovitch, becomes pregnant, rejects an abortion, and marries Roger, who wants to avoid the draft. The family is there for her all the way, but it is only in 1982, when Mo visits the Vietnam Memorial—David had been killed fighting—that she feels her years of grieving are over, that she can ``go home'' in peace. Nothing new or rivetingly insightful, but a pleasingly told tale that touches the heart.
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