Greeley returns with The Sixth Chronicle of the O’Malley Family in the Twentieth Century, the first having been 1998’s A Midwinter’s Tale.
In volume four, the Catholic O’Malleys of Chicago, Chucky and sexpot Rosemarie, began singing “September Song” in their early and middle 40s, though that late leaf-fall usually strikes in one’s 50s or 60s. Or was it just blues for the Jack and Bobby Kennedy deaths? Now in their late 40s, the O’Malleys face Chucky’s midlife identity crisis, volume five never having appeared at Kirkus. In any event, the plot appears to pick up where September Song (2001) left off—or else volume five made little difference. Now we find the O’Malleys in Rome, in 1978, and a new Pope being chosen (who will soon die and himself be replaced). First, there’s Chucky describing for us his wife’s postcoital body, which, for a fastidious man whom Jack Kennedy sent as our ambassador to Germany, seems boorish until Rosemarie, who takes up alternate chapters for the Crazy O’Malleys, reveals that “Our sex life wasn’t always great, no one’s is. But it was mostly good and often great, sometimes almost transcendent.” Now Chucky’s moping, sapped and disillusioned, a sad sack who’s lost his rambunctiousness despite a once-great career as a decorated Korean vet, his spunk as a photographer of America’s racial crisis in Little Rock, his ambassadorship, and later tiffs with LBJ about Vietnam. Though the O’Malleys were appointed by Paul VI to help revise birth-control teaching, their suggestions were ignored. They now fight a well-protected pedophile priest, then go up against Chicago’s lying, corrupt, paranoid, fat, ugly, psychopathic Cardinal Archbishop Thomas John O’Neill, one of Greeley’s grungiest creations, whose portrait Chucky shoots. Chucky collects a dossier on O’Neill to get Rome to dismiss him. The Pope sighs no. Now O’Neill shores up more power while Chucky’s health wavers and evergreen family problems prick and writhe.
Greeley, timeless as Rome, springs eternal.