OLD JIM CANAAN by Margaret Skinner


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A warmhearted, appealing first novel that chronicles, with a minimum of sentimental emphasis, the violent legacies and tender loyalties of a Memphis (Tennessee) Irish family, in bloom and decay, in 1914. The most frequent narrator in this multivoiced tale is young Jim Canaan, who, like his father, Nate Flanagan, is afraid of ""Old"" Jim Canaan--the crippled, melancholy, absolutely upright vice-lord of North Memphis who supports his family under his roof in fine style. Years ago, the ""crime czar"" lost his immigrant father to the ""Yellow Jack"" (yellow fever), and his bitter mother raised potatoes on her neglected husband's grave. A legacy from Ireland, however, enabled Jim to buy a saloon--a small empire of saloons, with girls, boxing, and gambling There are tales of street-fights for territory, an assassination, and the departure of Old Jim's only love--Ola, a prostitute who, like Jim, ""had seen the devil and it was Yellow Jack."" There are also boys' wondering excursions into black Beale Street, a carnival and a vision of sin, and raw, terrible violence--at a saloon on the night of a boxing match. Yet in the family house that Old Jim built, there is female respectabtity: his sister Mama Jo, who's buried three husbands, reverently pours vice money into the Church; pretty Clare, young Jim's mother; three young girls and a loving black housekeeper. Despite the domestic times of love and strength, though, the house is crumbling. Old Jim's days of power are numbered; then there will be deaths, and young Jim (who's learned about human weaknesses and bravery) leaves an empty house. Though there's the irresistible comic Irish wake, the author wisely skirts stage-Irish capers; and though her characters are skimpy in depth, they're large as life, noisy, and good company--touched, too, with an undertone of sadness.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1990
Publisher: Algonquin