The Irish McCabe uses elements familiar from his previous work for his latest novel, a ghoulish small-town burlesque.
The town is Cullymore, on the Irish border; it was also the setting for his last novel (The Holy City, 2008, etc.). Once again, there will be violent episodes, fits of madness and sectarian (Catholic/Protestant) tensions. It’s 1958. A scream erupts in the heart of town. Tongues wag. Has the devil struck again? Not to worry; the café owner has had an accident with her new electric mixer, but these are superstitious folks. They are happy enough on the outside, whether it’s the smiley-faced butcher or the genial dentist, who organizes innocent (or are they?) dances for teenagers; underneath it’s a darker story. The feud between Father Gus Hand and the disgraced, half-mad teacher James A. Reilly is out in the open. It dates back to 1940, when the men were on the staff of the same seminary. One day in class, Reilly kissed a male student on the lips and was promptly expelled; he has never forgiven the priest for his ouster. Now he lives in a hovel, oiling his ancient rifle, still plotting his revenge, which will spark the climax. Among an array of cartoonishly drawn characters, they are the most notable, along with the sweetly vulnerable Golly, a Protestant married to the Catholic barber; their mixed marriage has made her the target of her fellow Protestant Blossom, the odious, hoity-toity bank manager’s wife. Peeping out from behind the curtain is the omniscient narrator, a malevolent figure whose tricks force Golly into the loony bin. Toward the end we move into the 1970s, so the narrator can kill off characters for sport. The novel’s less-than-original conclusion is that we are all strangers to one another, a lesson taught by the Stray Sod Country of folklore.This is the last of McCabe’s small-town series. Hopefully the change of venue will liberate this talented author.