Privation, memory and regret combine to make an uneven but potent coming-of-age story in Loingsigh’s book, the first in a series about one man’s hardscrabble life.
Fresh off the boat from Ireland, young William Garrihy—rechristened Garrity thanks to a typo at Ellis Island—comes to America in the early years of World War I, bearing his family’s hopes for his new life. Although William has an uncle already living in Brooklyn, the family ties aren’t enough to provide him with a new start, and he’s soon on the street, starving and headed for a pauper’s grave. Good fortune arrives, however, in the guise of Dinny Meehan, the local leader of the White Hand Gang and a rising player in the dockyards. Under Dinny’s watchful eye and tutelage, William gains strength and the beginnings of respect in his new culture. However, his estranged uncle’s union agitation and an earlier failure to defend himself have come to weigh on him in the eyes of Dinny’s men, and clearing himself of that weight requires payment in blood. Loingsigh’s narrative owes much to historical accounts and family lore; he easily evokes the poverty, pain and hard labor that made up the working experience of the immigrant class in early 20th-century New York, giving the story a grimy verisimilitude. Although many of the characters are stock, Loingsigh uses them effectively as background, focusing attention on Dinny and William, who’s more poet than warrior, though he has the steel to commit violence when he must. The largest flaw the narrative has to overcome is the inconsistency in William’s voice, particularly in his use of dialect and time-appropriate exposition. In some places, especially in the early chapters, Loingsigh uses dialect rendered so heavily (and phonetically) that there’s considerable guesswork in figuring out what’s being said. Furthermore, the shifting in perspective between first-person present and third-person past is inconsistent, and it’s generally accompanied by changes in syntax and vocabulary that can throw the reader out of the flow. Despite these issues, the tale of William’s early days rings with passion and pain, ultimately making for an engrossing read.
Inconsistencies in voice and tone keep Loingsigh’s compelling, authentic narrative from fully taking hold.