Sinister forces disrupt attempts by American ex-pats to run a pub in rural Ireland.
Bondurant is drawn to the wild and the extreme. His last novel (The Wettest County in the World, 2008, etc.) dealt with violent bootleggers in West Virginia. In his third novel he turns to a death-haunted Irish island. Fred and Elly, a young American married couple, are always up for a challenge; no half-measures for them. They have a great love of liquor, literature and (in narrator Elly’s case) deep-water swimming. She’s six feet tall, with “skin like a walrus.” In the aftermath of 9/11, Fred leaves the corporate world when he wins a brewing company’s contest to become the owner of a pub in Baltimore in southwestern Ireland. As a bonus, they are paid-up guests at a bed-and-breakfast on wind-blasted Cape Clear Island. There are two stories here. One is of a marriage strained by Elly’s frequent absences on the island. The vast ocean depths are a dream come true; she does two foolhardy swims to a lighthouse, marvelously described, the high points of the novel. She is more afraid of motherhood than the ocean swells, retreating into herself as Fred, with barely any customers, busies himself with his 9/11 novel. Is the marriage going through a rough patch or irretrievably broken? Bondurant’s indecision weakens the novel. Then there’s the other story of the autocratic rule of the Corrigan clan. Descended from Ireland’s first saint, they do not tolerate outsiders. They particularly resent Highgate, a blind old goat farmer with an international crew of volunteers who frequent Fred’s pub. Tensions mount in a twisty plot that eventually implodes.
The most important unplumbed depths are those of Elly’s character. That said, Bondurant has written another nervy, robust and suspenseful novel.