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review of books | recently published books FICTION

Milkman By Anna Burns

A month after reading Milkman, Anna Burns’ Man Booker Prize-Winning novel, vivid scenes come unbidden into my head. You too will be haunted by this book, but it’s a must-read if you really want to understand what it was like to grow up in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. The action takes place in an unnamed town that’s rife with violence and distrust, and every move is monitored by the security forces and the paramilitaries. The teenage narrator tries to navigate the world as best she can, but her habit of “reading-while-walking” is cause for suspicion and rumor. She has also drawn the unwanted attention of one of the community’s leading paramilitaries, and is at a loss as to how to deal with the accusations from her mother that she’s leading him on. The story is intense, at times terrifying, as you become involved in the narrator’s every feeling as she tries to make normal out of the abnormal. It adds to the fear factor that none of the characters in the book have names. She’s “middle sister,” her stalker is called milkman (small “M”), though he’s not really a Milkman. Other players include “brother-in-law,” “elder sister,” “maybe-boyfriend” and “younger sisters,” who give the story just enough humor to make it bearable. All great characters, but it’s Burns ability to place the reader inside the head of the narrator, in that internal monologue style of writing that’s familiar to readers of Fyodor Dostoevsky, that lifts this story above the norm, and makes it an unforgettable read. Burns, who grew up in Belfast, said in an interview posted by the Booker Prize Foundation that Milkman was inspired by her own experience: “I grew up in a place that was rife with violence, distrust, and paranoia, and peopled by individuals trying to navigate and survive in that world as best as they could.” Burns has taken all of that experience and turned into one hell of a book. – Patricia Harty 948 pages / $35 / Workman

American Moonshot By Douglas Brinkley

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merica’s first Irish Catholic president John F. Kennedy famously said: “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” With the 50th anniversary of the moon landing of 1969 upon us, celebrated historian Douglas Brinkley makes clear just how central Kennedy’s vision and determination were in making the moon landing a reality more than five years after JFK’s assassination. According to Brinkley, the Cold War was central to the so-called “space race” between the Americans and the Soviets. Not for nothing did Kennedy, in his famous moon speech, add that the “goal [of landing on the moon] will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win.” But Brinkley also spirals back in time to explore the great minds, scientific and artistic, that helped develop the technology needed to make the Apollo moon missions possible. “History has taught us that artists are often decades ahead of engineers and scientists in imagining the future, and so it was with the idea of voyaging to the moon,” Brinkley’s book begins, focusing on the famous 1865 Jules Verne novel From the Earth to the Moon. Brinkley later adds: “Verne’s novels exemplified the optimistic spirit of their times, when the potential for industrial and technological progress seemed limitless […] It was into this cultural milieu that John Fitzgerald ‘Jack’ Kennedy was born [to] Rose and Joe Kennedy, both grandchildren of Irish immigrants.” Some readers may be surprised to learn the significant contributions one-time Nazi scientists made to the moon mission, and Brinkley understandably goes to great lengths to explore the dark pasts of figures such as Werner von Braun. Overall, American Moonshot does justice to this important moment in U.S. history. – By Tom Deignan

576 pages / $35 / Harper

Quinn’s Bar & Grill: Including the Adventures of Allison Wonderland By Patrick Carlin

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hat do you get when you set a loose take on Lewis Carroll in 1970s NYC? In this instance: some gritty, zany characters, star-crossed stoner lovers, and a messy timeline. The main storyline of Quinn’s Bar & Grill takes place in 1978, in a rundown Irish bar that is about to be closed down. Dizzy Ryan is a bartender with an eyepatch and a big heart who pines for his lost love, Allison Wonderland, who fled the U.S. five years before and has been country-hopping since, finding the world is its own Wonderland if you meet the right people with a can-do attitude. Both Dizzy and Allison are artistic at heart, and the novel is full of interruptions showcasing poetry that boggles the mind and sets a new precedent for rhyme scheme. Dizzy’s vignettes describing episodes at and around the bar often pursue the grotesque joke and belly laugh over delicacy, so faint-hearted readers beware. New Yorkers will appreciate the references to locales, and readers unfamiliar with the ins and outs of Manhattan in the ’70s will find the eloquent descriptions helpful and the vivid visuals memorable, as fun characters you usually find on the margins of more mainstream tales are brought to the fore and demand your attention with enthusiastic zeal. Self-published by author Patrick Carlin, whose previous work includes Highway 23: The Unrepentant, the novel is available as an e-book via Kindle. Take a tumble through the shot glass with Dizzy, Allison, and more with this hilarious, if not-quite-safe-for-work, read. – Mary Gallagher

272 pages / $4.99 / Amazon Digital Services MAY / JUNE 2019 IRISH AMERICA 60

Profile for Irish America Magazine

Irish America May / June 2019  

Irish America's May / June issue, featuring Congressman Richie Neal, chairman of the Ways and Means committee of the U.S. House of Represent...

Irish America May / June 2019  

Irish America's May / June issue, featuring Congressman Richie Neal, chairman of the Ways and Means committee of the U.S. House of Represent...