cover image Galway Bay

Galway Bay

Mary Pat Kelly, . . Grand Central, $26.99 (567pp) ISBN 978-0-446-57900-1

In this scattered retelling of her own family's struggles during the Great Irish Starvation, Kelly captures the suffering but neglects the inner lives of her thinly drawn characters. In Bearna, Ireland, in 1839, Honora Keeley falls in love with Michael Kelly after finding him swimming in Galway Bay, and they soon marry despite her father's objections. For a short time, life, while far from perfect, is sweet. Then comes the blight, destroying most of their potato crop. After losing the harvest for the third time in four years, the Kellys flee to America and settle in Chicago. Though the research is meticulous and the famine horrors are catalogued in great detail, the Kellys' lives in America are presented haphazardly, making it difficult to keep track of the huge cast of characters when decades are skipped seemingly at random. The characters themselves function more as types—greedy landlords, arrogant Englishmen—to further the plot. Despite its flaws, the novel may appeal to fans of Frank McCourt and Irish history, as the trials of the Kelly family echo the struggle of the Irish to assimilate while retaining their own heritage. (Feb.)