McCloskey burrows inside the ruminations of a middle-aged American woman returning to Ireland, where she lived as a young woman, to confront memories of her failed marriage.
Raised in Oregon by her loving single mother, Alice first came to Ireland on an adventurous whim in the late 1980s when she was 24 but left after her divorce. Years later, she is working for an Irish NGO in Kenya when her mother dies. At emotional loose ends, she returns to Ireland. Ostensibly there to write a report on her refugee work, unsure how long she’ll stay, Alice begins sorting through memories of her earlier time in Ireland: working at a pub in Sligo and hanging out with a bohemian crowd before meeting and falling in love with furniture importer Eddie, a gentle, solid man of few words. Alice, who barely knew her father, was drawn to the cocoon of safety and love Eddie provided despite her “flashes of doubt” about his verbal reticence. Once married, Alice found herself veering between loving contentment and emotional claustrophobia, resenting yet seduced by the “ready-made role” of conventional wife. She worked half-heartedly as a journalist while the couple’s social life revolved around Eddie’s friends and family. Then she fell into a mindlessly passionate affair with Cauley, a writer with a burgeoning career. The story of the affair and its impact on Alice’s marriage offers few surprises, but McCloskey excels in weaving Alice’s twin griefs over her lost marriage—Eddie has remarried and become a father—and her mother’s death into her present life as a solitary woman willing to accept the choices she has made. Despite the importance of the men in Alice’s life, the novel’s heart lies with Alice’s mother, a woman who loved her daughter fiercely, married for the first time in her 50s, and found a happiness that has so far eluded Alice.
Elegant prose and nuanced self-awareness, reminiscent of early Edna O'Brien, enhance this intensely focused story of memory and self-imposed loss.