SONGDOGS by Colum McCann


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Dublin-born New Yorker McCann, already winner of several Irish literary prizes, weighs in with a moody, sharply imaged, but ultimately inconclusive debut about a young man coping with a long-absent mother and an ailing, crotchety father. Conor has come home to Ireland from his travels in North America, after years of fruitless searching there for his Mam, to find his father obsessively fly-fishing a polluted river near their house, unsteady on his feet and slovenly in his habits. The 23-year-old, though, checks his first impulse to flee unseen and tries to make the old man, racked by a smoker's cough but fiercely independent, a little more comfortable during his brief stay. As they spend time together, Conor mentally retraces his steps, patching together his experiences abroad with memories of his childhood and details of his parents' much-traveled lives before his birth. His Irish father, a photographer by inclination, fled to Mexico from the Spanish Civil War, where he met Juanita in a dusty northern town, married and photographed her while settling there and raising chickens until her mother died and the couple could hit the road. After stints in San Francisco and Wyoming, they came to New York, where the dream of work in photography was burned away like morning mist by the hot reality of roofing. Finally, Ireland beckoned as the only place left for a man to regain his self-respect. But when in Conor's childhood his father published a volume of the erotic photos he'd taken of his wife over the years, town tongue-wagging set them all, and Juanita especially, apart, until she set fire to his darkroom one night and disappeared. As Conor puts the pieces together, he's able to tell his father of his search and lay his long-smoldering resentment to rest. Ably written in its particulars yet loose-leafed in the assembly: a work of promise having parts far greater than the whole.

Pub Date: Oct. 16th, 1995
ISBN: 0312147414
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Henry Holt