SHANNON by Gordon Parks


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Surprisingly (considering Parks' distinctive non-fiction), this is a perfectly competent but perfectly ordinary period melodrama of immigrant New York, 19131923--complete with contrived coincidences, a high incidence of sudden death, and erratic injections of historical background. The title character is beautiful, unstable young Shannon Sullivan, daughter of sweatshop-tycoon Meath, but she's less the central focus here than is the humble man she marries over her father's violent objections: Kevin O'Farrell, an innovative, good-hearted toolmaker's son who's determined to bring mass-production techniques to the tool and machinery business. Meath, furious over the marriage and over Kevin's stubborn independence, hires thugs to beat Kevin up (he nearly dies). And when a shocked Shannon has a stillborn child and a hysterectomy a few months later, she blames her father and goes semi-honkers, refusing to accept the baby's death. (Kevin is driven to adultery.) Meanwhile, too, a handful of subplots pops in and out: Kevin's sister Bridle becomes a nun, despite lingering lusts; Russian-Jewish agitators lead workers in strikes against Kevin (who compromises) and Meath (who's blown up); and Phoebe Jones, light-skinned wife of the black, college-educated janitor who once saved Kevin's life, is given an O'Farrell office job while husband Hannibal fights in WW I France (he loses an arm). . . but Kevin's swinish brother Dennis secretly beats and rapes her. Finally, then, a shattered Phoebe drowns herself (after leaving the rape-baby at an orphanage), so Hannibal comes home to identify Dennis as the rapist and kill him (there's a climactic trial). . . while Shannon, now widowed (a riding accident), turns her Brooklyn manse over to nun Bridle's orphanage--which just happens to include a certain child of O'Farrell lineage. Parks writes plainly and clearly--except in many of the sex scenes ("". . . the sensuous crescendo deep inside him that peaked with burning rapture between his black loins""). And, aside from some anachronistic talk about Shannon's mental illness (featuring a bit of instant, unconvincing psychotherapy), the rich/poor period atmospheres are reasonably effective, with extra flavor in the Phoebe/Hannibal scenes. Decently paced, likably peopled, only occasionally inane--solid, standard fare for the rags-to-riches-and-misery audience.

Pub Date: Aug. 28th, 1981
Publisher: Little, Brown