O’Brien (Down by the River, 1997, etc.) returns to rural Ireland for a tale of love, land feud, madness, and murder.
Right from the start the author warns her readers that this mountainous countryside is a place of “fields that mean more
than fields, more than life and more than death too.” Joseph Brennan and his sister Breege have resided and worked all their
lives on a dairy farm that has been in the family for generations. Enter Mick Bugler, riding the mountain’s first tractor, home
from Australia to claim the neighboring land his family has also held for years. At first charmed, then threatened by the big,
bluff, self-assured expat-come-home, Joseph falls into a dangerous rivalry that becomes a slowly escalating war of threats,
lawsuits, and bar fights. Inevitably, Breege and Mick become equally entangled in a relationship at first chaste, then, for one
brief moment, physical. Clearly, things can only turn out badly. In the hands of a lesser writer, matters would degenerate
quickly into clich‚s and the twee tones of a professional Irishman recounting the quirks of lovable small-town folk. But O’Brien,
who tells her story in a mosaic of shifting tenses and points of view, has the gift of the great Irish master-singers, painting word-
pictures alternately somber and giddy of a world that has no secrets, one where guilty knowledge fuels the fires of both rage
and love. The supporting cast, which could have easily seemed two-dimensional (wily old solicitor, gossiping hairdresser,
dumbfounded local cops) transcends stereotype in O’Brien’s memorably drawn portraiture. Her mastery of tone and register
keeps Wild Decembers churning even when it’s a foregone conclusion where all that anger will lead.
Proof again that in the hands of an artist, no plot is hackneyed, no emotion too obvious.