The Browser: A quick look at recent releases

  • August 13, 2012 - 8:48 AM


By Kathleen MacMahon (Grand Central, 341 pages, $24.99)

Everything is coming to an end in this poignant novel -- Bruno's job, Addie's loneliness, Hugh's career, the Republican domination of the White House, the soaring European economy. Set in Dublin on the eve of the 2008 American presidential election, MacMahon's novel -- her first -- sold in 25 countries and won her a 600,000 pound advance (just shy of $1 million). One Grand Central editor called it an "intelligent weepie," and that's a pretty good description, though I didn't just weep, but also laughed. Bruno is an American banker, thrown out of work when Lehman Brothers collapses. Addie is an Irish architect, thrown out of work when the Irish Boom goes bust. Hugh is Addie's father, a distinguished and haughty physician, facing ruin after a wrongful-death lawsuit. They all meet when Bruno heads off to Ireland to trace his family tree and falls almost instantly in love with Addie.

MacMahon, a journalist, has placed her story in the suburb of Sandymount, and the beach and the sea and James Joyce's Martello Tower are all vividly portrayed. Her credible, sometimes prickly characters navigate the hard times, some with more grace than others. "I bet you had this really happy childhood," Addie tells Bruno. "That's why you're so keen on talking about the past. People who had happy childhoods always love to talk about the past." It is smart, sometimes acerbic dialogue like this that keeps her novel refreshing rather than maudlin.



By Josh Garrett-Davis (Little Brown, 256 pages, $25.99)

Josh Garrett-Davis couldn't wait to get out of South Dakota and get on with his life. But when he moved to the East Coast, he began to realize how much his life had been shaped by growing up on the Great Plains. This memoir of a young man explores his coming of age in homes broken by divorce, dislocation, politics and geography. He traces his own family history as well as that of the plains, the bison and the American Indians who came before his folk. He looks ahead to the developing movements to "rewild" the plains as the people drain away. He paints the powerful contradictions of the Great Plains, contrasts as sharp as the Badlands themselves: solid rock that disintegrates, an empty landscape that fills the heart, settlers who can't settle down or "prove up." Fittingly, he does it both with and without sentiment: sharing what he can now see from a distance, but with the perspective of a loyal native son.


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