Hyssop

Kevin McIlvoy, Author Triquarterly Books $28 (175p) ISBN 978-0-8101-5085-0
Red Greet, the 85-year-old mason and part-time thief of McIlvoy's deeply satisfying novel, tells you right at the outset, ""I've always liked a Bible kind of story that adds on and keeps on adding."" Following that principle, Red saturates his main story, about his love for the two women in his life--Cecilia, his wife, who died 20 years before the book opens, and her friend, Recita--with anecdotes of the local folkloric Catholicism that takes saints and miracles for facts. Red is haunted by the fact that Cecilia's own affections were divided between him and his best friend, Francisco Velasco, a priest and, in Red's view, a saint. McIlvoy (Little Peg; The Fifth Station) has beautifully rendered the soft, Spanish-inflected rhythms of English as it is spoken on the border, and Red is the classic picaresque rascal, even though his age endows him with the quasi-biblical stature appropriate to an account of a farming community where families are rooted for generations in each other's histories. The traditions that give symbolic shape to the great passages in life--birth, marriage, death--still hold weight here. When Francisco gives Cecilia the last rites, Red, who is looking on, realizes that they are consummating their lifelong passion for one another. But Red also recognizes that, in spite of the rivalry, he and Francisco are also bound by a tie of love, which is the sacrament holding Red's memorable, intelligently romantic story together. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 09/28/1998
Release date: 10/01/1998
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 192 pages - 978-0-380-73271-5
Open Ebook - 100 pages - 978-1-61187-374-0
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