TIN WIFE by Joe Flaherty


Email this review


Though in the neighborhood of 300 pages long, this study of a Brooklyn-Irish cop's Brooklyn-Irish wife reads less like a novel than like a richly elaborated short-story or a magazine-piece in the New Journalism style. (Flaherty is known primarily, as a somewhat counter-cultural Jimmy Breslin, for his Village Voice columns.) The present-tense action is minimal: Theresa ""Sissy"" Sullivan, nÉe McKenna, 40-ish widow of cop Eddie, is on her way--with daughter, mother, and in-laws--to a City Hall ceremony honoring Eddie; and Sissy is hoping that some unspecified ""scheme"" of hers will succeed, that this ceremony will involve a posthumous promotion, complete with enhanced pension benefits. But, as the few hours crawl by (getting dressed, family bickering, a slow ride to City Hall by hired car), Sissy's thoughts also provide flashback-material on her childhood, her parents, her late husband, and her many conflicts with the embracing, confining Irish-American subculture. There's detailed, even repetitious, musing on: Sissy's implicitly incestuous relationship with now-dead father Mickey, a bar-and-grill ""host"" and flashy ne'er-do-well; her canny manipulation of the courtship with young, handsome Eddie; her strivings toward Manhattan and culture, shaken off by the more parochial Eddie, who becomes a compromised, compromising cop (""If Brooklyn was to make their relationship moribund, the Police Department would entomb it""); Eddie's infidelities; Sissy's discovery of feminism in Brooklyn Heights, with a brash new friend and even a tad of lesbianism; her own sorry attempt at adultery, with Eddie's best friend (""as arduous as doing a load of wash""); the Vietnam death of son Billy, soon followed by Eddie's on-duty heart attack--and Sissy's recent nervous breakdown. And finally, as the ceremony begins, we learn what Sissy's scheme is: after learning that Eddie really died in bed with another woman, Sissy has decided to blackmail the scandal-fearing N.Y.P.D. into that posthumous promotion. Will Sissy's plot succeed? Will her daughter Eileen break free, go to college? That's the only small flicker of tension here--with Sissy's scheming not very satisfying as a symbol of her liberation. Throughout, in fact, the character-portrait is less than fully persuasive, sliding between clinical psychology and socio-cultural generalizations. And Flaherty's hard-working ironic style, packed with metaphors and allusions, is frequently more strained than eloquent. Still, though static and thin as a novel, this unsentimental close-up of Brooklyn-Irish family life is rich in sardonic observation, atmospheric/raunchy specifics, and kitchen-table warfare--offering a montage of vivid vignettes, if little action or convincing emotional drama.

Pub Date: Jan. 25th, 1983
Publisher: Simon & Schuster