One powerful novella, with two thematically linked short stories on either side of it, forms the basis of Everything in this Country Must. These are stories about Ireland and the Troubles, but only in the sense that Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea is about fishing - they have an almost mythical rather than a political feel. In the title story ...
One powerful novella, with two thematically linked short stories on either side of it, forms the basis of Everything in this Country Must. These are stories about Ireland and the Troubles, but only in the sense that Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea is about fishing - they have an almost mythical rather than a political feel. In the title story, 4 young soldiers help a farmer and his daughter free their horse from a stream in flood, unable to understand that their help will never be anything but an insult. In the novella, 'Hunger Strike', a young boy and his mother flee to Galway as the boy's uncle succumbs to a hunger strike in a Derry gaol. In 'Wood', a ten-year-old boy is asked by his mother to make poles for the marching season. These stories don't have a political purpose, they are almost three memories, three moments in time that changed the course of lives from innocence to something else.
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Publishers Weekly, 2000-01-31 McCann, who distinguished himself among the impressive flood of recent Irish writers being well-published stateside with his remarkable book of stories, Fishing the Sloe-Black River, and the equally well-received Songdogs and This Side of Brightness, shows off all his talents here, although with mixed results. The two very short stories that begin the book (the title story and "Wood") are sketches, really, and though written with great spirit, are extremely slight. "Everything in the Country Must" involves an archetypal figure struggling to save a horse in a flood, and is a kind of Beckett vignette with muscle. McCann shows he has an eye for dramatic dynamics, but is so untethered in his language ("I stretched wide like love and put one foot on the rock... ") that the narrative becomes annoying in its indulgence. "Wood" fares no better. Again, it is a small event rendered with a kind of mythical grandeur: "Daddy" was "so tall he could grab onto the rim of the door in the mill and pull himself up ten times." But Daddy has a fall, and the mother and young children must drag their cut of lumber to the mill for payment. The muted heroism is so coyly underplayed as to be transparent, which hardly prepares readers for the novella that ends this slender tome. At first blush, "Hunger Strike" is another one of those tales too encumbered by the too-familiar big "Oirish" themes of history, hunger, violence, protest. But the story of 13-year-old Kevin and his mother, holed up in a caravan on the Galway coast in order to avoid the spectacle of Kevin's uncle's slow death "on the blanket" in, presumably, Long Kesh prison, is a piece of work bound for anthology heaven. With the kind of imaginative verve that marked his earlier stories, McCann takes the interior world of this teenager--sneaking smokes from his guitar-playing mother, listening to rock 'n' roll on the radio, thinking of girls and his dead father--and unpacks it with loving delicacy. Kevin in his wanderings in this place he finds "stupid" meets an old Lithuanian couple who live by the shore; they take the boy into their home, and the old man teaches Kevin how to handle a kayak. To while away the excruciating days of the uncle's hunger strike, Kevin and his mother play chess and make sport of constructing new pieces out of bread and cocoa and then putting them in the fridge--they delight in eating "the Queen." There are no pat answers here, as the Lithuanian man, long ago self-exiled from his homeland, makes gently clear. And McCann startles just enough with beauteous phrases (a stone wall "runs like a bad suture towards the sea") and lasting images (Kevin doing his homework on a stool next to his mother at the piano, as she plays for tips in a Galway pub) to keep readers amazed and near tears. "Hunger Strike" builds toward the inevitable mentoring of young Kevin by the older Lithuanian, and the teaching runs both ways. Hemingway's Old Man and the Sea, just as inevitably, will come to mind. (Mar.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
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