cover image A Swift Pure Cry

A Swift Pure Cry

Siobhan Dowd, . . Random/Fickling, $16.99 (310pp) ISBN 978-0-385-75108-7

This debut from an Irish writer opens with an epigraph from Joyce's Ulysses , setting a high standard that Dowd meets. Set in southern Ireland in 1984 and loosely based on an unsolved crime that rocked the nation, the story begins after the death of Moira Talent, wife of Joe and mother of Shell (short for Michelle), Trix and Jimmy. Joe Talent has buried his grief in a bottle, leaving 15-year-old Shell to run the household. Her father becomes pious after his wife's death, but Shell loses her faith—until young Father Rose joins the parish. She deflects her crush on the priest by taking up with smooth-talking classmate Declan, who gets her pregnant but leaves for America before he knows he's going to be a father. The residents of her claustrophobic rural community avert their eyes as Shell's shape changes, but cannot deny the tragedy that follows. At this point, the tenor of the novel smoothly and inexorably changes from an introspective examination of grief and loss, to a mystery with a thriller's momentum. Dowd's empathy for her characters extends even to Shell's father, a man with "a black shrivelled walnut for a heart." It is no small feat to write a story so heavy with foreboding and both deliver on the palpable sense of dread and concoct a hopeful yet realistic ending. Dowd achieves this in her beautifully realized account of one girl's loss of innocence, and her resilient recovery. Ages 14-up. (Apr.)