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by Colum McCann

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-8050-4106-0
Publisher: Henry Holt

 A bittersweet collection of 12 taut, beautifully written stories about both the modern Irish who have scattered and those still clinging to their homeland, by the author of the well-received novel Songdogs (1995). Wide in range and scope, these disparate tales are grounded in telling, evocative details. ``The light is like an old fisherman in a yellow rain-slicked coat,'' muses a young Irish immigrant to San Francisco in ``Breakfast For Enrique,'' putting much of his life aside so that he can be with his lover, now dying of AIDS. Many of these pieces have a similarly grim backdrop, but in each there are characters who persevere, demonstrating a plucky will that often brings them into the realm of the gently fantastic. In the moving ``Cathal's Lake,'' a live swan miraculously appears on a farmer's land each time someone is killed in Irish factional violence; soon his pond is crammed solid with the beautiful white birds. In the title story, the women of a small Irish town where the ``children have begun their drift'' gather at the riverbank to fish for sons to replace those who have already gone away for good. Several stories are heartbreaking in the way McCann illuminates how the damaged cope. In ``A Basket Full of Wallpaper,'' a Japanese survivor of Hiroshima moves to a small Irish village and compulsively wallpapers his cottage over and over, creating an ever-thickening insulation against the maddening world. And in ``Around The Bend and Back Again,'' a young woman in a mental institution creates an elaborate plan to return to her childhood home, an old railroad caboose that her father used to pretend he could drive through the stars. The apocalyptic ending of this tale (as with many others in the collection) is disquieting, yet strangely uplifting. A powerful, memorable collection with arresting images, unique characters--and voices that linger.