In Callaghan's latest (Mothers, 1984, etc.), the real turns surreal as an emotionally distraught Irish novelist and teacher,...



In Callaghan's latest (Mothers, 1984, etc.), the real turns surreal as an emotionally distraught Irish novelist and teacher, stalked by the ghost of her long-dead Irish-American grandfather, investigates an old crime only to get into more contemporary trouble. Anne O'Brien, a bestselling writer of Irish historical romances, is on her way to take up a teaching assignment at a Pennsylvania college when a man resembling her grandfather, Marcus Quilligan O'Neil, appears. At first she thinks that she's imagined him, for no one else can see him. Could he be a product of her drinking or her distress, both induced by her fear that her husband Fergal is dating a younger woman? Then the old man appears at a cousin's house and also pops up again at the college. He is, indeed, it turns out, Marcus's ghost, and he pesters Anne to write his biography. She's reluctant to undertake the project but finds herself researching his life, in part because her dying mother had told her that Marcus had never been a proper father. Suspecting sexual abuse, Anne begins her sleuthing. The inquiry is also an opportunity to give a brief reprise of the Irish experience in the New World as the writer describes how Marcus, born in America after his family had fled the famine, took various jobs, some unsavory, to earn enough money to pay for tuition at Yale Law. Once graduated, he moved to New York, practiced criminal law, became part of the Tammany Hall machine, and was rewarded for his loyalty by Woodrow Wilson with an ambassadorship to the Dominican Republic. In present time, an affair with a sexually abusive colleague, the irritations of academic political correctness, the attempted suicide of a gifted student, and Marcus's ghostly visitations nearly destroy Anne, but husband Fergal's fidelity, newly assured, and a new book idea end her ordeal. A witty and appealingly wry protagonist overwhelmed by a story that has more plots and subplots than an afternoon soap.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1996


Page Count: 280

Publisher: Marion Boyars

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1996