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The reappearance of the 12-year-old Depression-era Philadelphia boy of Dunphy's First Wine (1982). This time the boy--both battered by and drawn to a windy band of abrasively posturing, contentious adults--is imprisoned for a time within the mouldering dreams of a grandmother with the troubles of Job and the fiery vision of a tribal chief. The boy's father is boarding again with Grandmother Mary Ellen while beleaguered Mother is barely coping after delivering yet another baby. It's the boy's special friend, the neighborhood grump and isolate, who explains the word ""mission""--and then the boy is waved off by mother: to bring his father home. The ""little missioner,"" as he will be known, arrives at Grandmother's household of ""boys"": Gramps, who never left the boy he was in Liverpool; Great-uncle Tom. ""ladies' man"" and perennial jiltee; Great-uncle Chauncey, of a murdering bent, in and out of tire slammer; and Jim, the boy's father, bored with wife and children, skimping on Mary Ellen's board money. The boy's aura of ""mission"" galvanizes Grandmother into roping and tying her grandson with obligation: he would march on to do fine things in far places--deeds she could have accomplished if she'd been a man! Through the weeks in the shouting household, all hell breaks loose in and around, Grandmother's affections seem to shoot forth randomly (an itinerant, untalented painter is housed and fed), and there are instructive trips--to Atlantic City and to Ireland with Grandmother and Tom. It's in Ireland at the site of a Galway childhood that Mary Ellen, lover of the sea and of voyages without destinations, accepts some home truths. At the close, the boy is released, and Mary Ellen is vanquished, by one of Chauncey's little murders. The McLaughlin household, with violence cached like Chauncey's gun, is an eruption of chafed surfaces and entertaining brogue-flavored imprecations; and both the woman losing-to-life and the buoyancy of the game, homesick little kid, bothered and intrigued by being part of her dreams, are appealing, tender portraits. Nice.

Pub Date: May 30th, 1988
Publisher: McGraw-Hill