Life turns brutally cruel for a farming family of three in 1940s Ireland in this sad, haunting novel from a writer with a gift for language and character.
“It was the beginning of darkness” are the opening words, a telling phrase that also tells the time of day when Barnabas Kane and his hired hand, Matthew Peoples, rush from their fields at the signs of a fire. The building housing 43 cows is ablaze; Matthew would never have entered without the hand of Barnabas pushing him. So begins to swirl a maelstrom of unrelenting misfortune for the family Kane, the name echoing the Bible’s first murderer. The family has scant capital and no insurance coming because Barnabas canceled it in a prideful moment. Seeking help among the community, he encounters suspicion that he had a hand in Matthew’s death as well as the perverse rejection of anyone not born in and unmoved from the area (Barnabas is local but spent some years in New York before returning). Having done something sinful, Billy Kane, 14, fears he may have indirectly caused the fire to be set. Whether it was arson and who struck the match provide one thread of suspense. The other arises, as it can in the book of Job, from wondering what in God’s name the devil will come up with next. Even Eskra Kane’s bees are victims of slaughtering wasps that then assail her body and unhinge her mind. An accidental death also propelled Lynch’s first novel (Red Sky in Morning, 2013, etc.), a blunter retribution tale that calls to mind the stark cruelty of Cormac McCarthy. With his second novel, Lynch has a Seamus Heaney ear for the sights and sounds of rural life, making his prose thick and jagged, sometimes ponderous and often evocative.
Lynch evokes so many shades of guilt, pride, innocence, righteousness, and punishment that the book might help found a religion or maybe restore one’s faith in a deity that could make a fine writer with one hand even if he unmade the Kanes with the other.