MORTAL FRIENDS by James Carroll


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A melodramatic and galloping gallimaufry that spills from the Dublin troubles of the early Twenties to Boston in the Sixties, attempting to cross Trinity with The Godfather, but coming up with Irish stew over spaghetti--not the most tempting of dishes. Carroll (Madonna Red) begins well indeed, as young Irish farmer Colman Brady's newlywedded life is blitzed by British occupying arsonist forces; he becomes a hit-man and aide to de Valera, but, when his ambushed comradehero dies in his arms and his wife is burned to death in a raid, Colman takes his son Mickie and leaves for America. In the Dem-clubby Boston of Mayor James Michael Curley, Colman's political star rises quickly--and the novel (with 500 pages to go) starts to twist up and lose steam. The Sacco-Vanzetti storm introduces Colman to capo Gennaro Anselmo (Anselmo has evidence that--almost--clears the duo), and soon semi-innocent Colman is fronting for the mob, sincerely persuading Curley (now governor) to pardon convicted murderer Anselmo, a move that destroys Colman's political career. After a sluggish dalliance with an alcoholic Boston Brahminette, Colman recedes, and it's on to the next generation: Harvard-educated, WW II soldier son Mike, who marries Italian Anna overseas (Colman objects, and, via Anselmo, accidentally has her killed) and later goes to Washington to work for Kefauver, the IRS, and the FBI--all of which leads him to investigate. . . dad's secret pal Anselmo! Result: further blood and much irony. It would take a Dickensian richness or a Puzo-vian vigor to move this coincidence-ridden scenario along, and Carroll, though solid and respectable throughout, has neither. He tries instead to thicken the proceedings with famous faces in close-up: Harvard Pres. Lowell, Cardinal Cushing, and lots of Kennedys in bullying confrontations (""Fuck yourself,"" Mike tells Bobby. ""You are smug bastards""). Without leading characters who really engage or backgrounds that really come alive, this huge hybrid can only be faintly praised--for inoffensiveness, spotty vividness, and sheer sprawl.

Pub Date: April 13th, 1978
Publisher: Little, Brown