Big Girl, Small Town

Michelle Gallen. Algonquin, $16.95 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-64375-089-7
Gallen’s sensational debut concerns Majella O’Neill, a 27-year-old on the autism spectrum who’s learned how to mimic social cues. Majella lives with her irresponsible mother, Nuala, in the tiny fictional town of Aghybogey in Northern Ireland. Situated near the border, Aghybogey was once the site of clashes between the IRA and British soldiers, and the violence continues to haunt Majella’s family in the present. Following the death of her IRA-affiliated uncle Bobby, Majella’s once-doting dad, Gerard, starts to spend more time away from home. When the book opens, he’s been missing for years, and everyone in town is talking about Majella’s grandmother Maggie, who died after being beaten in her own home during a break-in. Majella’s no stranger to having her family be the subject of gossip, as Nuala’s destructive behavior and craving for attention are often exacerbated by her drinking and Majella often ends up playing the mom. Gallen does a great job of teasing out the details surrounding Maggie’s death through Majella’s conversations with family members and her customers at the fish and chips shop where she works. Gallen’s also an expert at mixing moments of emotional intensity with mundane episodes. The plot unfolds in a series of vignettes that expand on a list of Majella’s likes (eating, Dallas DVDs, sex) and dislikes (noise, jokes, fashion), which make her outlook irresistible. Gallen’s effortless immersion into a gritty, endlessly bittersweet world packs a dizzying punch. (Dec.)
Reviewed on : 09/01/2020
Release date: 12/01/2020
Genre: Fiction
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