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Irish playwright Leonard--the author, unmistakably here, of Da--turns to memoir and goes at it in exemplary Irish style, with humor and respect for failure, and a musical prose. Born John Keyes, he was taken in as a foster-child by the Byrnes of Dalkey--da a meek gardener, ma ""small and stout, like two Christmas puddings, one sitting on top of the other, with a weenchy one on top,"" as well as a terrible, vindictive harridan when there's a drop in her. Home was a two-room cottage (""one part for the living in, the other as an ideal, a regret and an aspiration, all in one""), and the local-ness of Jack's life as a child, the intimacy of geography, is vivid. The priests are fools and foxes all at once, the big crises small. One, Jack's dad having to drown their dog--which bit a nun--may be the book's most brimming scene: little Jack rushing down to the sea at night after his father, the dog refusing to go under the cold waves, finally da, Jack, and dog all together in the drink, pulling each other out--it's hilarious and lovely and heartbreaking too. Leonard has a tendency to peg his episodes around a stagy or marvelous-pub-story moment--""Two events marked my fourteenth year: I stopped going to confession and I killed Mrs. Kelly who lived on our road"" (of fright, it turns out, but she did really die). And the book's first half, before Jack goes off to school with the Presentationist Brothers, is the richer. Yet Leonard's vast breadth of heart and his lively/sad skills at narration make this book, all of it, a greatly appealing production.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1980
Publisher: Atheneum