A GLASSFUL OF LETTERS

Friendship, fear, and exile inform this latest from Irish novelist and storywriter Conlon (Taking Scarlet as a Real Colour, not reviewed), a brilliant epistolary work suffusing a portrait of modern Dublin with the subtle wit of Clarissa. Helena, like most stewardesses, is good at observing things from a distance.”This story is not about me,” she admits at the start. “It’s about my neighbour, Connie, and other neighbours, and what happened to her and us one year. She was brave.” Connie, you see, is married to Desmond, a Dublin art teacher. She has several children whom she loves, but she’s neither particularly happy with her lot nor desperate enough to change it. One great sorrow is her loss of her friend Fergal, who’s moved to New York to find work as an architect. Fergal corresponds with Connie and Helena both, although Helena (accustomed to long periods on the road with Aer Lingus) is a much better gossipmeister, filling Fergal in on the Dublin scene. From Helena, for example, Fergal learns that Desmond’s rather aloof father Bernard, a bibliophile and manager of the Waterford Glass factory, has begun corresponding with prisoners as a kind of charitable hobby. Connie, bored to death and inspired by her father-in-law’s example, follows suit and begins to exchange letters with Senan, an IRA convict. Fergal learns, to his horror, that Connie has become infatuated with Senan and that Senan has actually been released from the slammer. What will become of Connie’s marriage? Or her friendship with IRA opponent Fergal? For that matter, what will become of Ireland? And how can Helena and her husband Kevin be so blasÇ about everything? To Fergal, it seems that his countrymen have gone daft, though in fact a larger process is at work in the society he left behind. A splendid reworking of the standard circle-of-friends saga, and a timely and fascinating glimpse of 1990s Ireland.

Pub Date: Oct. 26, 1998

ISBN: 0-85640-618-X

Page Count: 208

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1998

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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