A charming, self-destructive Irish-American father takes his family on a troubled joy ride.
"Vintage car” is a loaded phrase in New York Post TV editor Rorke’s evocative debut, which introduces the Flynns, a working-class family struggling to stay afloat in 1970s Brooklyn. Patrick Flynn is a charismatic, impulsive drunk who grandly brings home a string of cars with nicknames like The Black Beauty—a ’58 Pontiac Parisienne—bought on the cheap at police auctions and later ditched because of engine problems. The cars are beautiful, but their insides are rotted out—just like Flynn’s own promises to his children and long-suffering wife Claire. “Dad operated purely on instinct, which didn’t always work in his favor,” says his teenage son, Nicky, the narrator. Nicky balances the story of his father’s decline with his own maturing awareness of life, especially a love of acting that hints at his future theater career. At times the story arc feels a little predictable and the scenes unnecessarily padded out, but Rorke’s writing is always assured as he paints a charming portrait of 1970s family life right down to the Amana fridge in the kitchen and Filet-O-Fish Fridays for the Catholic school kids during Lent. Rorke avoids easy psychologizing to explain Pat’s behavior; Nicky never tries to understand why his father seesaws between the roles of family man and “Himself,” a nickname the family gives his drunken alter ego. The closest Nicky ever gets to an answer comes one night when he finds his father at the Dew Drop, a local bar, and heartbreakingly realizes it is packed with men just like Pat Flynn, “playing the away game from their families.”
What readers learn in Rorke’s moving, bittersweet story is that hard realizations are often necessary on the road to discovering one’s true self.