A rich but immaculately pitched first novel--which not only recreates the heady cacophony of 1902-04 St. Louis at Fair time...



A rich but immaculately pitched first novel--which not only recreates the heady cacophony of 1902-04 St. Louis at Fair time but also, in contrast, probes the deep, insistent stress of bygone poverty and losses on Irish immigrants and their children. Matriarch of the O'Brien family is strong, seemingly tireless Catherine: when frail, adoring husband Jamie first saw her, she was sweeping along the street, a sewing machine in each hand--and now she's a survivor of Galway violence, with an acute memory for past tragedies. In America, however, Catherine has triumphantly managed a grand home for her brood of ten: from police-officer Will, the eldest, a pillar of the family. . . to eleven-year-old Frank, who seems perpetually terrified and loses out on everything, whether it's his share of the boys' bed or a trip to the Fair. But neither Catherine nor anyone else can save her vain, restless, beautiful daughter Anne--who is easily seduced and appropriated by shady lawyer Chris Schneider, a twice-married rotter given to beating women. And, accepting Chris' beatings as if in perverse emulation of a saint's martyrdom, Anne finally leaves home--besotted, flaunting damnation: five weeks later she is reported dead-and-buried in Chicago. Could there be some mistake? Catherine sends young Frank and Will (who's been investigating Schneider) on a marginally hopeful nightmare-mission to find and exhume the coffin. But, after a journey experienced by Frank with both exhilaration and terror, they know it's Anne's body indeed--decapitated. Even worse, Will must silently bear the knowledge of an official coverup and probable murder: the price of preventing family scandal. So, after a three-day sidewalk spill of wake, father Jamie withdraws into lowlier jobs, Catherine insists on moving, and there's a paralyzing chill felt by all. But it's not until Will finally coaxes his grim, sad parents to the Fair that Catherine at last weeps--and ultimately takes her pitiable, proud revenge. A vital, touching portrait of a family fighting the dark. . . while the glow of the Fair (and a new century) is only a trolley-fide away.

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 1981


Page Count: -

Publisher: Dial

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1981

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