East meets West--or, more precisely, North meets South--and all hell breaks loose in new arrival Foley's raucous, vicious, and utterly brilliant satire of culture, religion, and literary ambitions in modern Ireland. Whatever else may be observed of the Isle of Saints and Scholars, it's certainly a small world. All the more so if you're young, bright, and living in Belfast, like Kyle Magee, the Protestant ""Zorba of the North,"" who carries his opinions on life and art into every room he enters. Supremely self-confident and ruinously charming, he sounds clever enough to know what he's talking about but is too offhand in his pronouncements to let anyone know for sure. Naturally, he attracts a following, and our narrator becomes Magee's chief acolyte in short order. He sees in Magee a way out of the Ulster provincialism that, for Catholic and Protestant alike, keeps life nasty, brutish, and if not short at least dull. So he and Magee set out to convert the natives to the saving grace of Art, broadcasting a radio program called ""Born-again Ulster,"" setting up theater troupes, and writing novels of modern Irish life. Along the way, they fall into the hands of the Herron sisters, upwardly mobile scions of a matriarchal clan of Catholic shopkeepers, and each man takes his pick: Magee marrying Liz Herron, and the narrator settling for her older sister Reba. The friendship is stretched by Magee's egomania and the narrator's jealousy, however, and even as brothers-in-law the two find less and less to hold them together once they've emigrated to Dublin and London. The time it takes the narrator to realize what manner of man Magee truly is works out to be nearly the whole of the story, but he does manage in time. A superb exposition of the dynamics of private lives played out endlessly in public--and written with an easy wit and casual sophistication that have all but vanished from the contemporary scene.