In the Province of Saints

Thomas O'Malley, Author . Little, Brown $23.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-316-11039-6

Even in a field crowded by the wake of Angela's Ashes , this first novel of a hardscrabble Irish childhood stands out for its eloquence and its bleakness. In rural Slievecorragh in 1976, young, poor Michael McDonagh looks on after the death of neighbor Mag Delacey, whose affair with Michael's father is much whispered-about. While Michael's father searches for work in the States, his cancer-stricken mother rarely leaves the house, leaving Michael to keep company with his hard-drinking uncles as they eke a living from farm work and illegal fishing. The 1981 IRA hunger strikes loom over Michael's adolescence, while on a daily basis a low-level class warfare persists between the merely poor and the truly destitute. Teenage Michael begins an obviously doomed relationship with Mag's daughter Cait, making his hopeful moments all the more poignant. O'Malley, who grew up in Ireland and England, and now lives in Rhinebeck, N.Y., heightens his metaphors to match Michael's unrelentingly grim world ("the ball of wool unraveled on the floor like a mealy maggot from a rotten apple") and his sentences have a judicious clarity even as they twist into gnarled shapes; they carry O'Malley's characters though their incomprehension with poise and assurance. Agent, Richard Abate at ICM . (Aug. 24)

Reviewed on: 07/18/2005
Release date: 08/01/2005
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