Irish filmmaker Harrison’s cerebral yet emotional first novel shows how a “brief moment of continuity between two lovers” can have stark and long-lasting consequences.
In 2012 Belfast, deeply religious 38-year-old car mechanic–turned-preacher Samuel Orr, a happily married father of three young sons, falls into a passionate if unlikely affair with 26-year-old Anna Stuart, a Beckett scholar at Queen’s University. Their sexual attraction burns with fervor, but Harrison also wants his readers to view the affair in philosophical terms with his references to Beckett and transgressive literary philosopher Georges Bataille. An academic intellectual with poetic leanings, Anna is drawn to the way Orr sees “no line between the sacred and the profane.” When she becomes pregnant, Orr tells his wife straightforwardly about the affair while acknowledging that he doesn’t know what he plans to do. He continues to see Anna yet remains stalwart in his faith in God and himself. Then Orr’s wife dies—whether accidentally or on purpose is left unclear—when struck by a train. Orr’s oldest son, 12-year-old Philip, begins to demonstrate a quiet fury against his father; Anna senses the boy embodies his father’s sense of guilt. When Anna’s baby, named Samuel after both Beckett and Orr, is almost a year old, Orr breaks off their relationship. Philip’s rage against his father becomes psychological warfare that culminates in violence. Cut ahead 35 years to a near, non–science-fiction future. Philip has disappeared. Anna has become an accomplished poet and married an artist. Sam Orr works at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and has brought his father, Samuel, now a blind old man, from Ireland to live with him. One day Philip shows up at the museum, and the careful world Sam, a repressed gay man, has erected shatters. The three Orrs must face their capacity for faith, vengeance, and forgiveness as well as their bonds of family love.
Despite the borderline pretentious discussions of philosophy and theology, Harrison’s elegant prose and deeply felt characters create a novel with a fiercely beating heart.