The O’Briens

Peter Behrens. Pantheon, $25.95 (400p) ISBN 978-0-307-37993-1
Afamily saga spans the 20th century, from Pontiac County, Quebec, to Venice Beach, Calif., and beyond, through two world wars and countless intimate tragedies, in Behrens’s powerful second novel (after The Law of Dreams). Joe O’Brien, the eldest of five children, takes on the role of patriarch at age 13 when his father is killed in the Boer War and his family struggles to make a life in harsh northern Quebec. Joe’s business savvy, the power he feels in his bloodline, a strong work ethic, and a mentor in a well-traveled local priest help Joe build a lumber business by the time he’s 15. But difficulties remain: their new stepfather, who married their mother six months after their father’s death, molests Joe’s little sisters and hardens all the O’Briens—to his own detriment. This is a family possessed of a “strange, rough beauty,” as the priest describes them, and it’s this dichotomy that keeps them struggling internally long after they leave Pontiac County. Joe wins a construction contract for a railroad project that takes him to the Selkirk mountains of British Columbia and then to Venice, Calif., where, en route to Mexico, he visits his brother, Grattan, and meets Iseult Wilkins, who has just taken the first risk of her life by moving into her own apartment near the Beach. Iseult is soon on friendly terms with not only Grattan and Joe but also their gruff sister Elise, who sells the young woman a camera. By choosing Joe, Iseult welcomes a riskier, messy existence, and what follows, as their children age and the couple grows apart, is just that. Moments of grace and romance are rocked by cruel words and violence in this epic, a piece of rough beauty itself. Agent: Sarah Burnes, the Gernert Company. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 01/02/2012
Release date: 03/06/2012
Open Ebook - 529 pages - 978-1-77089-029-9
Paperback - 400 pages - 978-0-307-74438-8
Downloadable Audio - 978-1-4640-4232-4
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