CAL by Bernard MacLaverty
Kirkus Star


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MacLaverty (Lamb) accomplishes this short novel with a shudder-soft grace and inevitability; little here feels forced or elongated, though the story itself is almost banal in bare outline. Cal McCrystal is a young unemployed Ulster Catholic (he could work at the abbatoir with his father Shamie, but he can't stand the sights and smells); as the only Catholics left on their street, he and Shamie are subjected to threats and, eventually, arson. Yet Cal is no rabid IRA-er--despite his having been coerced by them into a terrible deed: acting as the driver on a murder run that assassinated a Protestant reserve policeman. It's Cal's fate, in fact, to be repeatedly roped into situations he doesn't really want to be in. And the central plot here involves Cal's love from afar for a local librarian, Marcella, who turns out to be. . . the widow of the policeman whom Cal helped destroy. Improbable? Certainly. But MacLaverty is stalwart and light-touched enough to follow it through, to convince us of Cal's love and guilt. Furthermore, when Marcella finally responds to Cal (who has aroused IRA suspicions by his silence and goes to dangerous lengths to be near Marcella), there is a taut wire strung between them: Marcella's need for comfort, her unawareness of his sin; his horror of blurting out one day what he's done. And MacLaverty is especially good at the small, dry-mouthed details of Cal's infatuation, which build minutely--with an added interesting angle of characterization: Cal turns out to be a wittier, more urbane lover than we'd expect, as though freed by love from circumstance. A brief, slightly unbelievable book--nonetheless made rich, affecting, and tangible by the quiet determination of its characters. . . and its storytelling.

Pub Date: Aug. 19th, 1983
Publisher: Braziller