Born in Dublin, writer Kevin Maher now lives in London, where he writes for the Times. His first novel, “The Fields,” is a coming-of-age story about a 14-year-old Dublin boy who is struggling both with first love and with that other powerful force of 1980s Ireland, the Catholic Church. Here’s how it begins:
When Jack died I was real young, younger than I am now, and I said, in a temper, that I would never let it happen again. Jack was our cat. A dark brown Burmese fella, with nippy teeth, grabby scratchy claws and loud wheezy breaths that rattled through him in a strange sing-songy chorus as he tottered about on unsteady paws. He was also the first and only time that we tried, as a family, to have a pet. And when he arrived there was a big hullaballoo among the girls. They were all pulling and shoving each other, with a bit of scratching too, all desperate to have a go. Kissing and cuddling and yanking him under the covers, and chasing him round the couch until he hid in the corner and did a pee under the coffee table that drove Dad completely wild. That fecking cat! he said, gritting his teeth and pulling his fingers into a fist as if he was going to punch to death a six-week-old fluff bundle.
Jack’s wheezing, from day one, got louder and louder, and by the end of the first week it had turned into full-on flu. The vet said that he possibly had it all along, that the breeder, an ancient fella from County Cavan, was probably a bit of a shark, and that Jack might actually die instead of getting better. This scared the girls no end. And that, combined with all the snotty green drippy stuff pouring from his eyes and nose, and the way he’d suddenly sneeze and blast it outwards and right into your face, made them run like mad whenever he appeared in the room. And it made Dad want to kill him even more.