Friday, May 15, 2009
I grew up on Martha's Vineyard in a house as big and loud as a parade - the clamor resonated along the entire New England coastline. Calliope whistling, batons soaring, trumpets bleating, everything tapping and humming, orchestrated chaos, but we could afford it. My mother was rich, her father's money falling from the sky like ticker tape, gently suppressing the ordinary consequences of all that noise.
Lovely, huh? One phrase best describes May's debut novel pick by Elizabeth Kelly (Twelve) - over the top.
The writing, the characters and story line are among the most flamboyant I've come across in some time. In this story of redemption, young Collie Flanagan serves as the plain vanilla center in the midst of his fabulously wealthy and eccentric family: his adulterous, boozing father, his cruel Commie mother, a pigeon-racing uncle, his morally upright prep-school failure of a younger brother, and the Falcon, Collie's newspaper baron grandfather whose largesse enables them all. In the midst of such a flamboyant family, Collie's only wish is to be ordinary. He manages sane stability until a tragic accident leaves him reeling, forcing him to figure out what it 'means to be a man'.
Apologize, Apologize! is a comi-tragedy, unwieldy in places yet elegaic in others. The first half of the story rips along with humorous alacrity, then takes a sudden turn toward darksome when the tragedy occurs. For me, this fulcrum is when the story comes alive; the first half seems a 'getting to know you' dance filled with anecdotes of growing up Flanagan that left me itchy for substance. My prickliness was enhanced by the somewhat superficial and stereotypical sketches of some characters (must all Irish be rip-roaring drunks?) and the somewhat unbelievable events. But the second half builds empathy for the protagonist who, until then, seemed pallid in comparison to his crazy kin. Indeed, I found Collie upstaged by his more colorful - and likable - brother Bingo. One of the saddest, funny books I've read - the story and the characters haunted me for several days and made me reflect on the graces of being less than superordinary.
The Author... Elizabeth Kelly is a Canadian journalist and former magazine editor. She lives in an old house in a small village in eastern Ontario with her husband, four children, dogs, cats, and fish.
The Press... Eh, I know, as an imprint of the Hatchett Book Group, TWELVE is quasi-Indy press. But I've wanted to read a book published by TWELVE for some time due to their mission of publishing one book a month in order to focus on the editorial and marketing attention such books deserve. APOLOGIZE, APOLOGIZE! is one of its rare fiction offerings.
Take a gander at this fine debut piece o' fiction, if for no other reason than the sheer joy of reading the elegant prose.