(Turtle Point Press, 2011)
It is 1999 in South Boston, and the streets leading to tragedy are paved with memories of tears and ghosts. In Edward J. Delaney’s second novel we meet six residents varying in age, temperament, and voice, all on separate paths, some of which are seemingly destined to collide. A long-widowed mother tries to rekindle something of the bond she once shared with her 13-year-old boy. A townie alcoholic tries to sail straight under the employ of a millionaire philanthropist who enlists him to transcribe a very personal and private memoir. A teenage girl escapes her suburban purgatory to move in with an older boyfriend. And a local priest nears his retirement from parish work—an occasion heralded both by his haunting memories of older days and the slow revelation that his is a memory haunting others.
Delaney’s prose is smooth throughout, rhythmic and relentless in its pursuit of the heartbeat behind the words, the introspective torture that looms beyond nervous breathing, twitchy hands, and that display of everyday yet inimitable dementia to which we can give no proper name. He wrestles with each character, strives to pin them long enough to match with the right adjective, the perfect degree of candor, then lets them off the mat in anxious anticipation of what they will do next. And when the fateful stars of his style and syntax align just right, the page glistens with poetic charisma.
The story’s action is slow in some parts, but compensated for by a deeper probing into psychosis and the schematics of uphill battle plans. There is a close third-person narration throughout, which alternates perspective depending on the title character of the particular chapter. In scenes when more than one of the core six characters appear, however, the close narrative tends to jump from mind to mind; the result is off-putting.
In spite of that, Delaney does a tremendous job with the different voices, spanning a modest estimate of 50 years in age. In one chapter, we see the fatherless boy, petrified and insecure, hip-deep in situations he cannot possibly fathom and answering abrasive questions with anxious wonderment (“Please, sir, I want some more!”). Ten pages later, Jimmy is hung over again, debating self-worth and the silver lining of tragedy; then later, a mother yearns, in the throes of a helpless breakdown, for any semblance of peace. The unmistakably Irish architect of these perspectives jumps effortlessly from character to character, brain to heart, motivation to instinct, love to fear.
The constantly changing narrative leaves the reader in suspense of how and when the stories will interweave—bad if you can see it coming, modestly effective if you cannot (which is almost exclusively the case). Readers will find themselves eager to return to their favorite story, which is guaranteed to change with every plot twist. Descriptions convey the old school grittiness of Southie and even some of its charm, but more of the trademark dialect and inflection would only enhance the authenticity.
No one character is tied to all the others directly, but they are connected, pragmatically if not serendipitously. In the grander scheme of the neighborhood web, we are offered a theme of virtue and vice, neither avoidable in Southie, both empowered to take or save one life or many. The suffering endured by these six people seems ameliorative; they are learning in their pain. Some heed the lessons of their misfortune while others, deservingly or otherwise, fall deeper into the cracks of a Broken Irish society.
Kevin Jared Hosein’s Hungry GhostsBy Daniel Turtel
MARCH 2023 | Books
The title of Kevin Jared Hoseins novel is derived from a mourning ritual in which rice balls are left out for the hungry dead while the living forgo all worldly pleasure. Its a good fit for this beautiful yet unceasingly dismal portrait of mid-1940s Trinidad, in which abject poverty, colonialism, and recent war-time occupation have squeezed joy from the landscape and the people alike, leaving tragedy and loss as the most salient features of either.
On Edward HicksBy Brandt Junceau
DEC 21-JAN 22 | Art Books
Our beloved Edward Hicks (1780-1849), painter of 62 Peaceable Kingdoms, was, we learn, maybe not so easily loveable. He was trouble, to put it lightly. And an early master of appropriation, pastiche and transhuman identityhe needed all that and more, to stand his ground and say his say.
No Tears: In Conversation with Horace PippinBy Amanda Gluibizzi
FEB 2022 | ArtSeen
By sheer coincidence, I visited No Tears: In Conversation with Horace Pippin, which situates Pippins John Brown Going to His Hanging (1942) in the context of critical texts and Dean Mosss video johnbrown (2014), on December 2, the 162nd anniversary of John Browns hanging. It was my second encounter with the abolitionist that week, having visited Kara Walkers exhibitionwhere Brown made an appearance in the artists video Prince McVeigh and the Turner Blasphemies (2021)at Sikkema Jenkins just a few days earlier.
Beauford Delaney: Be Your Wonderful SelfBy Zoë Hopkins
NOV 2021 | ArtSeen
Beauford Delaneys imagination was ablaze with portraits. Often painting his subjects from the shimmering flight of memory, Delaneys approach to portraiture was an exercise in deep connection between his own interiority and that of the people he painted.