Broken Irish Americans from South Boston, that is—and there’s plenty of brokenness to go around at the turn of the 21st century.
Delaney plots his narrative through parallel story lines, all of which elegantly converge at the end of the novel. Jimmy Gilbride has been an alcoholic for about 20 of his 32 years, and after untold binges—and a recent auto accident—he gets a job helping to ghostwrite the memoirs of Terrance Walsh Rafferty, an entrepreneur from Southie who made good and is now worth millions. Ironically, Jimmy has given up drinking (for the most part) so he can do this job, but it’s just the moment when all those years of abuse are beginning to disclose problems with his liver. We also learn of the unhappy life of Colleen Coogan and her estranged 13-year-old son Christopher, who drops out of school and wanders around town, most days ending up in the library where he can indulge his passion in reading about medieval legends. In the evenings Christopher shadows Jeanmarie, a 16-year-old who’s also left school to live with her egregious boyfriend Bobby, a loser who smuggles beer home to their squalid apartment from his job at the Liquor Mart. She has dreams of making it big as a model, dreams fed by slimy Marty, who takes pornographic pictures and encourages her to think he’s going to make her a star. Finally, we learn of Father John, a soon-to-retire whiskey priest of dubious morality whom Colleen hopes will serve as a spiritual adviser to help her with Christopher. It turns out Father John has his own family secrets to bear.
Delaney keeps all of the incipient tragedy beautifully and heartbreakingly balanced through artful plotting and an unadorned but graceful prose style.