cover image The Heart in Winter

The Heart in Winter

Kevin Barry. Doubleday, $28 (256p) ISBN 978-0-385-55059-8

This rip-roaring western from Barry (Night Boat to Tangier) chronicles the misadventures of an opium-smoking Irishman. The story begins in 1891 Butte, Mont., where reckless Tom Rourke senses “the approach of a dangerous fate.” He fancies himself a poet and balladeer, and to pay for his booze and dope, he writes letters to prospective brides on behalf of illiterate men. He also spends a lot of time admiring himself in saloon mirrors (“He wore the felt slouch hat at a wistful angle and the reefer jacket of mossgreen tweed and a black canvas shirt and in his eyes dimly gleaming the lyric poetry of an early grave and he was satisfied with the inspection”). After he meets Polly Gallagher, a mail-order bride from Chicago, the two trade lines of poetry and begin a passionate and chaotic affair. They burn down a boardinghouse, rob the safe, steal a horse, and head west across Montana to Idaho, with a posse in pursuit and tragedy in tow. The action is rendered in crisp and gritty prose, and the sensual descriptions of Tom and Polly’s lovemaking are gloriously over-the-top. The pleasure never lets up in Barry’s masterful novel. Agent: Lucy Luck, C&W. (July)