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A PARCEL OF ROGUES

A bold and humorous, if uneven, sendup of Scottish culture.

Two shiftless Scots in Glasgow get drawn into an insurrection agitating for independence from England in this madcap satire.

Gourlay Baines leads a meandering life—avoiding work and responsibility, engaging in petty theft and grift, and evading the landlord’s agent, O’Leary, always hunting for his perpetually late rent. Lucky for Gourlay, he’s a man of modest ambitions and counts himself rich when he has a pocket full of change. His “old crony” McMinn one day presents him with a business opportunity. Big Red, a giant of a man—“close to seven feet tall and his red hair, eyebrows and beard were so red that his massive head seemed to be on fire”—is paying cash for help with digging, the details closely guarded. As it turns out, Big Red is preparing a tunnel to a bank vault, a criminal gambit both Gourlay and McMinn participate in reluctantly. When that caper turns out poorly, they’re roped into a planned battle between Big Red and his nemesis, Sanny Rutherford. Scores of men turn out, but before a chaotic fight ensues, the two massed groups bond over their common Scottish heritage. The imbroglio gives Big Red an idea: “We need a common focus, a national focus, and by God!…By God! We have it already in the English! We’re a divided nation—Glasgow/Edinburgh, Catholic/Protestant, Highlander/Lowlander, myself and Sanny even....Linguistically-speaking, a farmer in Aberdeenshire likely has more in common with a Dutchman than a Sassenach....But is there a better uniting force than a common enemy?”

Sleigh farcically chronicles the formation of a group of freedom fighters, the National Army for the Liberation of Scotland, or “N.A.I.L.S.,” a comically incapable ragtag bunch. Gourlay and McMinn seem swept into Big Red’s ambition as if by a massive wave, reluctant but also unwilling to assert themselves. This lack of focused agency, the author cheekily implies, characterizes the desultory Scottish spirit, an ethos more likely to complain of oppression than to competently wage war against it. Gourlay isn’t so sure simply being Scottish means all that much to Scots and therefore doubts it as a significant identity, let alone a call to insurgent action: “Near everybody Ah ken is Scottish, but Ah’ve nae idea to what extent they’re really aware of their national identity, or whether they give a damn about that.” The group’s exploits are the stuff of vaudevillian comedy, the bumbling errors of the perennially distracted. Sleigh’s wit can cut to the quick, but is also deeply silly, and that lightsome but feverish tenor is very hard to keep fresh for the length of a novel, even one on the short side. Furthermore, the dialogue is presented in the thick argot of colloquial Scottish speech, and for the uninitiated, it can be a tedious slough: “Onywey, he coudna get intae ma breeks, so he took a sheet an’ happit himsel’ up in it....Bluidy daft if you ask me.” This is a funny book, one brimming with deliciously irreverent insights. But that’s not quite enough to compensate for the laborious translation it requires.

A bold and humorous, if uneven, sendup of Scottish culture.

Pub Date: Nov. 20, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-60489-297-0

Page Count: 278

Publisher: Livingston Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 18, 2021

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THE WOMEN

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

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A young woman’s experience as a nurse in Vietnam casts a deep shadow over her life.

When we learn that the farewell party in the opening scene is for Frances “Frankie” McGrath’s older brother—“a golden boy, a wild child who could make the hardest heart soften”—who is leaving to serve in Vietnam in 1966, we feel pretty certain that poor Finley McGrath is marked for death. Still, it’s a surprise when the fateful doorbell rings less than 20 pages later. His death inspires his sister to enlist as an Army nurse, and this turn of events is just the beginning of a roller coaster of a plot that’s impressive and engrossing if at times a bit formulaic. Hannah renders the experiences of the young women who served in Vietnam in all-encompassing detail. The first half of the book, set in gore-drenched hospital wards, mildewed dorm rooms, and boozy officers’ clubs, is an exciting read, tracking the transformation of virginal, uptight Frankie into a crack surgical nurse and woman of the world. Her tensely platonic romance with a married surgeon ends when his broken, unbreathing body is airlifted out by helicopter; she throws her pent-up passion into a wild affair with a soldier who happens to be her dead brother’s best friend. In the second part of the book, after the war, Frankie seems to experience every possible bad break. A drawback of the story is that none of the secondary characters in her life are fully three-dimensional: Her dismissive, chauvinistic father and tight-lipped, pill-popping mother, her fellow nurses, and her various love interests are more plot devices than people. You’ll wish you could have gone to Vegas and placed a bet on the ending—while it’s against all the odds, you’ll see it coming from a mile away.

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781250178633

Page Count: 480

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2023

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THE SWALLOWED MAN

A deep and grimly whimsical exploration of what it means to be a son, a father, and an artist.

A retelling of Pinocchio from Geppetto's point of view.

The novel purports to be the memoirs of Geppetto, a carpenter from the town of Collodi, written in the belly of a vast fish that has swallowed him. Fortunately for Geppetto, the fish has also engulfed a ship, and its supplies—fresh water, candles, hardtack, captain’s logbook, ink—are what keep the Swallowed Man going. (Collodi is, of course, the name of the author of the original Pinocchio.) A misfit whose loneliness is equaled only by his drive to make art, Geppetto scours his surroundings for supplies, crafting sculptures out of pieces of the ship’s wood, softened hardtack, mussel shells, and his own hair, half hoping and half fearing to create a companion once again that will come to life. He befriends a crab that lives all too briefly in his beard, then mourns when “she” dies. Alone in the dark, he broods over his past, reflecting on his strained relationship with his father and his harsh treatment of his own “son”—Pinocchio, the wooden puppet that somehow came to life. In true Carey fashion, the author illustrates the novel with his own images of his protagonist’s art: sketches of Pinocchio, of woodworking tools, of the women Geppetto loved; photos of driftwood, of tintypes, of a sculpted self-portrait with seaweed hair. For all its humor, the novel is dark and claustrophobic, and its true subject is the responsibilities of creators. Remembering the first time he heard of the sea monster that was to swallow him, Geppetto wonders if the monster is somehow connected to Pinocchio: “The unnatural child had so thrown the world off-balance that it must be righted at any cost, and perhaps the only thing with the power to right it was a gigantic sea monster, born—I began to suppose this—just after I cracked the world by making a wooden person.” Later, contemplating his self-portrait bust, Geppetto asks, “Monster of the deep. Am I, then, the monster? Do I nightmare myself?”

A deep and grimly whimsical exploration of what it means to be a son, a father, and an artist.

Pub Date: Jan. 26, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-18887-3

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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