THE BEND FOR HOME: A Portrait by Dermot Healy
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Eschewing straightforward chronicle, Irish poet and novelist Healy (A Goat's Song, 1995), born in 1947, re-creates his upbringing through a series of impressionistic word-pictures and characterizations--most poignantly of his father, a policeman who retired early due to ill health. Writes Healy, taking his bearings here, ""What happened is a wonder, though memory is always incomplete, like a map with places missing."" The young boy felt trapped with his family's move from the small village of Finea to the town of Cavan, where they lived above the busy bakery-tearoom operated by his aunt Maisie and his mother, Winnie. He and his father were both sleepwalkers, seeking escape in night dreams (""most nights we set off for Finea""). Healy gives little description of how he grew to be a man in London, though he does allow a self-deprecating glimpse ahead to the writer who returns home to find himself fabricating, to the editor of the local paper, a literary success he's not yet achieved. Thematically and stylistically, Healy's talents are ever on display here; the occasional sustained heroic catalogue of Cavan, for example--the author piling clause upon vivid clause, like so many layers of frosting--providing technical tours-de-force; though his later experience at Saint Patrick's Secondary College, rendered primarily through re-created diary entries, is far less memorable. In closing as he flash-forwards to the 1990s and his return to Cavan to care for his aged mother, infirm and losing her faculties, Healy evokes the surprising bawdiness of the old woman's humor and ruminates on an imaginary place, Hy Brazil, like another Atlantis rising out of the sea, out beyond where the author lives, in North Sligo. The island, he concludes, is, like life, ""peopled with uncertainties."" With his descriptive talent and his knack for making comedy out of tragedy, Healy has written a beautiful, imaginative, full-blooded memoir.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1998
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Harcourt Brace