In his sweeping novel, Cheevers gives voice to the struggles endured by Irish immigrants.
The Delaney family made their home on an Irish peat bog. When an invitation to New York arrives from an uncle, the question of immigration ignites a conflict between Big Jimmy Delaney and his 14-year-old son, Jimmy. The younger Jimmy, the story’s protagonist, is determined to make the voyage with or without his parents. A decision is made: Big Jimmy, his wife Mary and Jimmy will head to New York City, leaving the two younger sons in an orphanage to finish school. The long voyage tightens the tension between father and son, as young Jimmy learns how to provide for himself with help from the sailors on board. Upon arrival in New York City, the family discovers that the uncle has died; after Mary dies of a miscarriage for which Jimmy blames his father, Jimmy severs ties with his father for good. Cheevers relates the ordeal in a readable Irish lilt, which fades as Jimmy gets farther from his homeland. Strong-willed and capable, Jimmy is most at ease when he’s on the move; over the years he finds jobs as a seaman’s mate on a river steamer and as a telegrapher for the railroad. Cheevers fashions Jimmy into a well-rounded, relatable character through his speech and the wanderlust that ultimately drives his life. Though Jimmy has few genuine friends, his ability to maneuver friendships to his advantage sets him apart from similar protagonists. Through his alliances Jimmy attends college in the East, then heads west to become a journalist in California. Along the way Jimmy has an unlikely though not implausible encounter with one of his brothers who’d been left behind in Ireland. The brother’s rage at his father has led him to become a prizefighter. The discussion between the brothers shows how far Jimmy has moved from his conflict with his father—and yet the conflict still keeps him on the move. His cunning, drive and independence land him in on the West Coast, but his desire to keep moving on continues. While the conclusion fits, it leaves readers looking for closure, because Jimmy, compelling as ever, is once again starting over.
A fascinating immigrant’s tale of the turmoil and restlessness that come from beginning life anew.