cover image Wild Decembers

Wild Decembers

Edna O'Brien. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), $24 (256pp) ISBN 978-0-618-04567-9

The wild Irish humor and savage Irish melancholy that are both legend and stereotype receive exemplary treatment in this powerful novel by the prolific O'Brien (Down by the River; Time and Tide; Lantern Slides). Scenic Western Ireland is the setting for her tale, and particularly Cloontha, a village snug against a mountain where ""lust for a lip of land"" has set ""warring sons of warring sons"" against one another for centuries. Bachelor Joseph Brennan and his young sister, Breege, have never left their family acreage; Mick Bugler is newly arrived from Australia to claim adjacent land inherited from an uncle. They meet amicably when Mick's tractor gets stuck in Joe's farmyard, but their budding friendship soon sours, even as Breege, secretly smitten with the handsome newcomer, tries to pacify her irascible brother. The tractor, a novelty in the area, is dubbed Dino the Dinosaur by one of a notorious pair of sisters, Reena, ""a child of nature,"" and Rita, a conniving slut. Their seduction of Bugler in order to obtain a free load of hay is exuberantly erotic, but this episode does not deflect the reader's woeful sense of foreboding about the growing conflict over territory between Joe and Bugler. Bugler admits he has a fiancee in Australia, so Joe is increasingly distraught as he senses and fears the halting romance between his innocent sister and the man he considers ""the despoiler."" The climate, the landscape, the history, all so deeply ingrained in the native Irish psyche, underscore the suspense. Remaining unflinchingly true to her characters, O'Brien allows the inevitable tragedy to play itself out, evincing the pity and terror of classical drama. 5-city author tour. (Apr.)