Life is an accumulation of told and, more importantly, untold stories in a quietly remarkable linked collection (a second from Lordan: And Both Shall Row, 1998) about a couple who retire to Ireland.
Lyle and Mary move from Ohio to Galway, where Mary grew up. In the early episodes, we watch them adjust in small yet telling ways to their new life within the old structure they’re used to in behaving with each other. Mary, ever patient but with a streak of independence, learns to discard her romanticized expectations, while gruff, seemingly oblivious Lyle finds ways to enjoy being an expatriate despite his loneliness. The marriage, like any long marriage, combines unspoken affection with barely hidden grievances, private longing with solicitousness. “Digging” goes back into the couple’s early romance, while in “The Man with the Lapdog,” Lyle befriends a tourist couple (a dying American teacher and his wife), but his attraction to the wife leads him back to an appreciation of Mary. In “Evening,” Mary has tea once with “the man of her dreams.” Two years later, after running into him on the street, she takes home his dog as a favor and Lyle is overjoyed to receive what Mary lets him assume is a birthday present as the other man’s abandoned pet becomes Lyle’s companion and solace. The first half of the book is largely about what makes Mary and Lyle a unit, but with Mary’s death from pneumonia, the narrative shifts, taking on a more forward momentum. Lyle is joined by the couple’s two grown sons, who were clearly closer to Mary than to Lyle. As the three men sort out their relationship, Mary becomes not a sentimental memory but a pervasive absence and cause of concrete grief—perhaps Lordan’s real subject.
There’s nothing flashy here, but each image, moment, and word counts and builds as the characters’ lives overlap—overlap in connections the more powerful for their subtlety.