CALL ME THE BREEZE

Patrick McCabe, Author . HarperCollins $24.95 (352p) ISBN 978-0-06-052388-6

McCabe's deliciously warped wit is razor-sharp as ever in his latest book (titled after an old J.J. Cale song), which reads alternately like an acid-induced reverie and the naïve ramblings of a man trapped between art and reality. Charged with kidnapping and assault, Joey Tallon is sentenced to do time in Mountjoy prison (or "The Joy," as it is ironically called), a fate not much worse than staying in his cramped trailer in Scotsfield, a small border town plagued by violence in 1970s Northern Ireland. While locked up, Joey takes to reading and becomes a founding member of the prison's first literary society. While some of the convicts take a stab at poetry, Joey keeps a diary, which he later reads, "secretly hoping to stumble upon a novel." Newly obsessed with outlandish film projects after his release and still eager to publish a novel, Joey becomes delusional, seeking (unsuccessfully) to involve pop icons like Joni Mitchell, Madonna and Bono in his artistic endeavors and setting himself up as the laughingstock of Scotsfield. Under the spell of his misguided optimism, Joey unwittingly reveals too many secrets about events related to the Troubles, many of which point to the sinister politician Boyle Henry and his minions. Joey has his own share of skeletons in the closet, including some positively Oedipal encounters with a blow-up doll named for his father's long-dead mistress. His creative efforts bury him deeper in a world of illusion, and he continues to pine for his muse, the lovely Jacy, a local girl who may just be a figment of his imagination. McCabe (author of Booker Prize finalists The Butcher Boy and Breakfast on Pluto ) deftly patches together episodes of Joey's peculiar life using diary excerpts as well as letters and notes from film shoots, yet turns the traditional epistolary novel on its head. What results is the bone-chilling account of a would-be writer who collides with fiction because he takes it too seriously. McCabe is happily not at risk of doing the same, allowing his trademark humor and crafty Irish colloquialisms to leaven even the darkest of scenes. (Dec. 1)

Reviewed on: 11/10/2003
Release date: 11/01/2003
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Paperback - 341 pages - 978-0-06-052389-3
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