June 19, 2004

The Great Irish-American Novel

In a post on the book Mystic River, Henry Farrell says: "I remember going to a conference on Anglo-Irish literature ten years ago, where one of the panelists complained that nobody had written the Great Irish-American Novel." (Here's the current link, but CT is experiencing link trouble--go to crookedtimber.org and search the site for "Mystic River" or "Neighborhood Values.")

May I nominate Alice McDermott? Her novels sweep through many generations and social strata of Irish-American society, and have a lot to say about the experiences of people trying to make the move from the working class to the middle class. Take the family in Child of My Heart that moves to Long Island because they've realize their daughter is a good marriage prospect, and they want her to meet a better class of people. And Child of My Heart is probably the least sociological of her novels.

Also--they're fantastic. The dynamics of a huge extended family in Charming Billy are handled with amazing ease, and the treatment of time in That Night is absolutely virtuosic. I believe That Night was also published more than ten years ago, though it may not be as purely Irish-American as the rest. (For my money At Weddings and Wakes is a bit overrated--as the narrative shifts from one time to another, you can feel McDermott pushing it; in That Night time shifts seem to flow organically out of the story.)

(Child of My Heart also answers Roy Edroso's question: Do they still write books that can make you cry? Although I think Roy is overdoing the old-man thing a bit when he says that they don't write nothin' like Remains of the Day anymore. RotD is less than twenty years old.)

Posted by Matt Weiner at June 19, 2004 01:15 PM