John McGahern, Author . Knopf $24 (352p) ISBN 978-0-679-41914-3

McGahern (Amongst Women, etc.) expertly captures the rhythms of smalltown Irish life in a graceful but underplotted novel that takes a diverse and gregarious cast of local characters through a transitional period in a lakeside village. Much of the narrative revolves around the daily life of the Ruttledges, a farming couple who become the focal point of the village's social interaction after they leave the London rat race for a more peaceful life. The most engaging and colorful characters in the book are John Quinn, a local womanizer whose life becomes a source of gossip and controversy when his bride leaves him right after the wedding, and a figurehead known as "the Shah," the richest man in the village, whose decision to sell his business represents a turning point in the town's way of life. Lurking in the background is a shadier political figure, Jimmy Joe McKiernan, whose involvement with the IRA poses a different kind of threat to the rhythms of daily life whenever a bout of upheaval and violence erupts. McGahern gets plenty of mileage from the poignant scenes describing the rituals and chores of farming along with the common social affairs that form the backbone of daily life, but the absence of a strong story line reduces this book to an extended character study. The author's warm, flowing prose makes that study an enjoyable read, but readers who pick this up based on McGahern's track record for well-reviewed and award-winning novels may find themselves disappointed. (Mar. 11)

Forecast:Nearly 10 years have gone by since the publication of McGahern's last book—his Collected Stories—so this offering will likely be thoroughly scrutinized by reviewers, for better or for worse.

Reviewed on: 01/28/2002
Release date: 03/01/2002
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 352 pages - 978-0-679-74402-3
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