O’Connor’s debut is a coming-of-age tale of an Irish teen in 1996 who, on learning he’s adopted, plans to track down his birth parents.
Cork, Ireland, native Benjamin Hackett celebrates his 18th birthday with “a stack of pints at the local pub.” Awakening the next morning a year older and hung over, Ben returns home to a shock: his parents have decided to tell him he was adopted. He’s understandably upset and wants to find the parents he believes abandoned him and “punch them in their noses.” Enlisting his pal JJ for companionship and JJ’s Fiat 127, Ben heads to the Barnamire Convent in Cork, where he was born. Unfortunately, mere yards away from the convent, the two friends are mugged by a peculiar (but armed) fellow who insists they call him Apache. The nuns, meanwhile, are less than helpful in providing details on Ben’s adoption, and police show up to arrest Ben and JJ for trespassing. Getting the info on his birth parents expeditiously may require Ben to hobnob with criminal sorts and do a few things he’ll surely regret later. All for a potential reunion that shows no indication of being a happy one. O’Connor forgoes sentiment early on: Ben describes the unknown couple who birthed him as “rancid parents.” But what could have been a dark, dreary tale is sweetened by a surprising amount of humor. JJ, for one, offsets Ben’s ever-present ire with drollery; seeing a “Trespassers will die” sign, he notes, “That seems fairly unambiguous.” There are, however, more sober moments; Ben does favors in exchange for help—often something illicit that could put his life or others’ in peril. O’Connor’s lilting prose beautifies his tale, like a house that “looked nothing more than a teensy white dot high against the rocks with seagulls squabbling over which one of them was due a perch on her chimneypot.”
Tackles a serious theme of forlornness with sincerity, buoyancy, and wit.