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WHITETHORN WOODS by Maeve Binchy

WHITETHORN WOODS

By Maeve Binchy

Pub Date: March 9th, 2007
ISBN: 0-307-26578-1
Publisher: Knopf

Binchy (Quentins, 2002, etc.) inserts questions of faith into her usual romantic braid of multiple storylines, in this case concerning the troubled residents, former residents and descendents of residents of an Irish town where an obscure shrine faces demolition.

Father Brian Flynn, his commitment to the priesthood already shaky, is furious at the superstitious faith people place in the shrine at St. Ann’s Well outside Rossmore, but after visiting the shrine himself, he vows to hear and help his parishioners himself. Then a proposed new highway threatens to run right through the site of the well. The efforts of Father Flynn and his congregants, particularly the saintly Neddy Nolan, whose practical wisdom has been mislabeled as simpleminded, to resolve the highway dilemma form the plot that snakes around a slew of subplots. These are often fully realized stories that stand on their own. Some of the characters actually visit the well, like the two pairs of lovers who together find a perfect living arrangement thanks to the shrine, or like Father Flynn’s sister Judy, who returns home to pray for a husband. Others, like the insane Becca, who arranges for the murder of her romantic rival, and her mother, who sells Becca’s story to the tabloids, live in Rossmore but pointedly do not visit the shrine. The majority share only a geographical connection to Rossmore, as in the case of Emer and Ken. Although their story smacks of heavenly intervention, the intermediary who kindles Emer and Ken’s romance is a gallant cab driver, not St. Ann. In Binchy’s world, well-meaning characters find happiness while an ungrateful son or an adulterous husband can expect comeuppance.

Her sentimental morality may be predictable, but Binchy’s lilting Irish zest is undeniably addictive.