Waiting for the Healer

Eamonn Sweeney, Author
Eamonn Sweeney, Author Picador USA $23 (308p) ISBN 978-0-312-18206-9
Reviewed on: 12/29/1997
Release date: 01/01/1998
Dublin writer Sweeney debuts with a slam-tough, shocking novel that mirrors contemporary Irish life by drawing on ancient themes in a wholly modern style. Paul Kelly thinks he has escaped the drudgery and poverty of his childhood by establishing a comfortable existence in London. Yet the brutality and horror of his past, including his wife's death from a heroin overdose, continue to haunt him, and the joy of raising his beloved young daughter is marred by his increasing alcoholism, the cruel ""healer"" of the title. When his brother is savagely murdered, Paul returns to the small town of Rathbawn to avenge his sibling and to work through his fury and bitterness. What ensues is a dark rampage through violent terrain. The border counties of Ireland have always been riven with conflicts over politics and land, with drug running and gang warfare now added to the mix, and Sweeney observes the place and its people with an unflinching eye. Searching for his brother's killers, Paul is again exposed to the raw cruelty of rural poverty. His brother's ex-girlfriend is an outcast in her own village. An engagement party explodes into blood and gore when a masked gunman coolly opens fire. A disillusioned cop gives Paul the address of the man he seeks to kill. Paul is a world-weary hero whose torment translates with credibility into blood-drenched vengeance, but he is not an evil man. His black humor is laced with the wry references to popular culture that invest Sweeney's prose with a smart and cutting-edge, yet permit moments of lyricism. The conclusion, which tells of Paul's spiritual transcendence, is neither trite nor typical. It's a fitting end to this bold and exhilarating gallop through the dark side of Irish life.(Feb.)
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