Books about place, magic, Faeries, Ireland, sex, God, and love
It’s not a spoiler to say this novel ends with a stirring and poetic image: voices in 35 languages singing the word home in a harmonious chorus. The remainder of the novel, however, is a series of harrowing and dismal accounts of human cruelty, many of them with origins in the conflicts in the various Balkan states. These accounts, rendered by characters with distinct voices, lost their distinction over the course of the novel by virtue of their repetition and eventually blend into one long painful numbing tale. Moreover, they seem to serve no narrative purpose -- a kind of atrocity porn.
The novel starts off well enough: a articulate and handsome stranger named Vlad appears suddenly in a small Irish town proposing to open shop as a sex therapist until the local priest and bishop persuade him to proclaim himself a healer instead. One of the local married women fall for him and becomes pregnant. The remainder of the town is equally smitten until a few strange occurrences make them begin to suspect the stranger is not who he says he is. When his identity is uncovered, there is an episode of violence that triggers the avalanche of accounts of atrocities that make up the remainder of the novel.
David Sedaris is pitching this disturbing novel on his book tour and reports he was tipped to it by John Waters, so I absolutely had to check it out, particularly after Sedaris read a particularly distressing account of a lengthy and troubling bowel movement punctuated with the line: "This was the best of times."
And the recommendations from these two twisted masterminds Sedaris and Waters makes perfect sense. This is a colossally honest, brutal, slightly kinky book narrated by a woman growing up somewhere smalltown and distant and perhaps 1960s vintage who has a massive but inexperienced erotic imagination. Most of the time, she is relating the particulars of her narrow experience spent between a home life with an almost comically alcoholic father and her day job at a prison for boys. But there is a point in this novel where a mere two sentences change this novel from a commentary of smalltown manners to something real and explosive that takes the breath away.
The weakness of the book is that it is narrated from a perspective fifty years hence, and the distance is a bit chilling and leaves a large unsatisfying void (which, perhaps, the author will fill with a sequel, since the narrator hints at continued crazy adventures in the years inbetween the events and the narration).