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A Novella and Two Stories

by Colum McCann

Pub Date: March 8th, 2000
ISBN: 0-8050-6398-6
Publisher: Henry Holt

More exquisite and wrenching storytelling from Manhattan-based Irish author McCann (This Side of Brightness, 1998, etc.), who packs more passion and heartbreak into these two stories and novella, about the Troubles and children coping with hard times, than most writers can generate in books three times the length. The title story is a classic in contemporary Irish fiction: A farmer, desperate to save his favorite horse, whose leg is stuck between stones in a raging river, enlists help from his daughter, Katie, and from a passing truck'which, however, turns out to be full of British soldiers. The men rush to the rescue, and succeed in it, but though Katie invites them back to the house to dry off and have tea, there’s no joy in her father’s heart: On the mantel are photos of his wife and son, killed by an army truck in an incident for which no one was ever charged. “Wood” is far more subtle, about a boy who works with his mother preparing poles to carry banners in the Protestant parade, though he must do so furtively, knowing that his father, crippled by a stroke and unable to work, would never approve. The novella, “Hunger Strike,” also focuses on a boy: this one has moved to Galway with his mother, a singer who hopes to start anew in her hometown, away from the violence of the north and the lingering memories of her husband’s death. The Troubles haunt the two when the boy’s uncle, in prison as an IRA terrorist, joins the collective hunger strike and progressively weakens. The boy befriends an elderly Lithuanian couple who take a kayak on the ocean together daily, but the comfort he finds in paddling over the waves is not enough to soothe his rage at what is happening to his father’s brother. Masterful. These emotionally charged, beautifully controlled tales can only enhance McCann’s already considerable reputation.