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THE PROMISE OF LIGHT by Paul Watkins

THE PROMISE OF LIGHT

By Paul Watkins

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-679-41974-8
Publisher: Random House

 Watkins has outdone himself: this gifted young writer (In the Blue Light of African Dreams, etc.) has written his best yet--a successful fusion of a young man's quest for his origins with a harrowing account of the Troubles in Ireland (prior to independence in 1922). Ben Sheridan is the appealing hero and narrator. It's 1921; the Irish-American university graduate has landed his first job, with a Rhode Island bank, and his future seems assured. His mother died young, but Ben is close to his father Arthur, fire chief on Jamestown island. Then, an accident; Arthur needs blood, but the direct transfusion from Ben kills him. The doctor concludes that Arthur could not have been his natural father, and Ben, flabbergasted, is without a road map. Only by seeking out the truth in Ireland (his father seldom spoke of the old country) can Ben impose order on chaos. He takes a cargo ship to Galway. The cargo is guns, as Ben discovers when he is hustled ashore. The innocent Yankee (Watkins scrubs the stereotype clean as a whistle) finds himself in the middle of a war between the IRA and the notorious Black and Tans (British soldiers), a ``local feud'' with informers everywhere and atrocities on both sides. The British know about the guns and about a mysterious American they figure is Arthur Sheridan (another shock for Ben: his father was a former gun-runner who promised to return); so events push the reluctant Ben into the IRA camp. He does eventually learn the truth of his paternity, but he also learns the truth of his own irreducible essence as he kills two men, refuses to kill two others, and calculates the odds of his survival. Whether it's a peaceful domestic scene or hand-to-hand combat so real it hurts, Watkins's sure touch never falters. The joy comes from watching him find the right image, again and again and again. From start to finish, this is fine work.