cover image The Visitors

The Visitors

Patrick O’Keeffe. Viking, $26.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-670-02463-6

Taken as a whole, this slow-burner from O’Keeffe (The Hill Road) delivers a devastating emotional wallop. Winner of the 2006 Story Prize, O’Keeffe has turned from tales of those who stayed in Ireland to one about those who left. The trajectory of expat protagonist James Dwyer is not dissimilar to O’Keeffe’s own journey from Ireland to America. As the novel opens in the States, Jimmy is visited by an indigent man who carries a message from Jimmy’s past. The novel is heedless of time, meandering back and forth through Jimmy’s life and the lives of his forbears to bring the reader up to speed about the import of the message, which turns out to be from Jimmy’s childhood nemesis, Kevin Lyons. We learn, gradually, of the inextricable bonds between the Lyons family and the Dwyers back in County Limerick, about the affairs and tragedies of aunts, fathers, brothers, sisters, and namesakes. It is not until Jimmy begins to read the diary left behind by Kevin’s dad, Michael, that the reader becomes aware that the author is up to something quite remarkable. The very air Jimmy breathes seems rife with memory—not only his, but his family’s—pregnant with the secrets of those who went before him. By the time all is revealed, the reader is captivated and moved. (Mar.)