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BELOVED STRANGER by Clare Boylan Kirkus Star


by Clare Boylan

Pub Date: April 1st, 2001
ISBN: 1-58243-096-9
Publisher: Counterpoint

Irish writer Boylan (11 Edward Street, 1992, etc.) draws on painful family memories of her own father's manic-depression for a Dublin-set story of love, aging, madness, and the price of marriage.

Dick and Lily Butler, married for nearly 50 years, are the sort of doting, sweet, slightly dotty couple for whom buying and eating broccoli constitutes an adventure. Their only child, Ruth, is a hard-nosed feminist architect who can't quite see the magic in her parents' life or in their house "draped about with good feelings." The good feelings, though, dissipate and then shatter irretrievably when Dick begins to show signs of a slowly growing madness. He imagines intruders, schemers after his money, his home, his wife. Finally he explodes into utterly shocking violence, and Lily and Ruth are forced to have him committed. The crisis brings a new presence into their lives, an affable gay psychiatrist named Tim Walcott. As the disease makes its slow progress, Dick's manias become increasingly threatening and draw the few remaining family friends into their vortex. Suddenly, as if exhausted by the process, the old man dies, leaving his wife and daughter to cope with literal and figurative ghosts. In a superbly realized irony, each finds her way to a quiet and comfortable peace with his memory. Boylan tells this story with such delicacy and sound good sense that it's exhilarating to read even in its darkest and most agonizing moments. She is a deft technician with an ear for the offbeat, compelling metaphor, and a real feeling for human emotions, both pleasant and not.

Lovely, deeply felt fiction, with a subterranean vein of wry humor that helps make bearable even its most pained moments.