After a pair of successful memoirs (Of Time and Memory, 1999; The Cliff Walk, 1997), Snyder returns to fiction with a bland and platitudinous novel.
Massachusetts housewife Nora Andrews’s life is ruptured by the simultaneous discoveries that she is pregnant again at age 43 and that her husband is sleeping with another woman. Confused, dejected, with a “little grain of rice” in her belly, she absconds to Ireland, where she spent some time 20 years ago when her two children were toddlers. Abortion being illegal in the Republic, she makes her way to Northern Ireland and the town of Omagh—on the very day of that city’s infamous 1998 bombing by the IRA. In the aftermath of the blast, Nora gives shelter to a wounded British soldier, Capt. James Blackburn, who, the reader already knows, has conspired to reverse the IRA’s warning so that the crowd goes toward rather than away from the bomb area. While Blackburn’s motives make superficial sense—rescue the peace process by turning the people against the IRA—the fact that he is responsible for so many deaths makes him an unsympathetic figure and a deeply bizarre love interest for Nora. As she drives him around Northern Ireland, eluding the police and the IRA, Nora has epiphanies of desperate banality. Life is “a deep secret that never fully reveals itself to us”; “we cross borders of time and the person we once were, we leave behind”; “she was thinking that maybe love is nothing more complicated than looking up to find someone looking at you, waiting to meet your glance.” After saving the captain’s life and encountering all the Irish stereotypes known to man, Nora comes to yet another understanding. She must do what the kindly priest has told her: “Go and live, Nora. Spread your light across the world, and live.”