Tender

Belinda McKeon. Little, Brown/Boudreaux, $27 (416p) ISBN 978-0-316-34432-6
At first glance, McKeon’s second work of fiction (after Irish Book of the Year–winner Solace) explores well-trod themes. Two college-aged youngsters in Dublin meet through mutual acquaintances, develop a friendship, and experience much elation and angst over the course of a year together in the late 1990s. But as the raw and claustrophobic story progresses, it becomes devastatingly clear that the path their relationship is taking is far from ordinary. For one, budding photographer James is gay and closeted, during a time when homosexuality isn’t widely accepted in Ireland. His anguish and frustration at not being able to love freely is deftly handled by McKeon, who mostly relies on what isn’t said to lend weight to his predicament. Instead, what propels the plot forward is the sheer force of Catherine’s blind love for James. She wants all of him, first emotionally, and then physically—a wrinkle that adds depth to the friends’ tragic coupling and makes their breaking apart so easy to predict and so heartbreaking to read. Catherine’s self-destructive obsession with James may verge on maddening for readers (though the author’s choice to saddle her with an interest in Ted Hughes’s Birthday Letters, written about Sylvia Plath and published in 1998, was a smart one). But the book’s final chapters, detailing the older and wiser friends’ bittersweet reunion in New York 14 years later, proves that time does heal the heart’s deepest wounds—or, as McKeon so aptly demonstrates, at least most of them. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 12/14/2015
Release date: 02/16/2016
Open Ebook - 416 pages - 978-0-316-34431-9
Paperback - 416 pages - 978-0-316-34434-0
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