Ganly’s (Data Sources for Business and Market Analysis: 4th Ed., 1994) fiction debut traces the myriad highs and lows of an Irish family throughout the last half of the 19th century.
Opening with a journey to America, Ganly’s sprawling saga covers the lives of the Clinton family from 1850 to 1899. In lieu of a single, main story, however, the novel overflows with subplots that touch on such themes as marriage, faithfulness, performing arts, politics and even serial murder. The Clinton clan includes Lawrence, a talented portraitist coming to terms with his homosexuality; Eva, a lauded stage actress determined to fight for Irish rights; Claire, a nun who’s wrestling with the restrictions of her religious vows; and many more. In addition to the Clinton family’s core members and their inner circle, cameos abound from such historical figures as William “Boss” Tweed, Oscar Wilde and Sigmund Freud (a man with “fascinating” eyes who looks “more like a musician than a physician”). Although the action bounces primarily between Ireland, London and New York, there are also brief sojourns to Russia, Australia and Africa that shake things up. As the former assistant director of the New York Public Library, Ganly exhibits admirable ambition and an encyclopedic knowledge of the time period. At more than 600 pages, however, the novel seems overstuffed and distracted. The prose, for example, often seems overly preoccupied with explaining things, such as characters’ motivations, even if those explanations aren’t particularly intriguing: “Sean began to experience the happiness lost to him, and the chance to act and be part of Cora’s life filled him with joy.” The Clintons also all share the same stilted way of speaking, which robs some scenes of the emotional impact they ought to have. When two characters break up, for instance, their conversation is stiff and unrealistic: “I can see no future in our relationship. The love I have for you is a treasure that will last me a lifetime….We part as friends with good memories.”
A noble effort from Ganly, whose next installment, set in the 20th century, might benefit from a tighter narrative focus and deeper characterization.