Tuesday, May 12, 2009
The Walking People
Growing up in a tiny hamlet in Ireland in the mid 1950s, Greta Cahill is the sort of girl called a 'goose' by her family, one who should stay close to home within the safely of her family. Greta is only a teenager when her older sister Johanna decides to leave Ireland for New York City in the company of another youth, Michael Ward, a boy who is one of 'the walking people' - an Irish gypsy. Greta finds herself along for the ride to New York. Greta jumps right into her new life, working and finding a place to leave. A turn of events and a crisis leaves Greta without the one person she'd always thought she would have nearby - Johanna. The story then jumps ahead in time, and we rejoin Greta as a working mother and wife. Greta holds a secret from her children, one that she is afraid might destroy the life she has so carefully cultivated. Eventually Greta's children bring together the two worlds she has so successfully kept apart.
I really enjoyed reading The Walking People, Mary Beth Keane's debut novel. I loved the narrative, which is traditional, except for the section in which Greta, Johann, and Michael first come to New York. This part is told in letters back and forth to Ireland; the technique really suits this section of the story. I will admit to being a bit confused when reading the prologue of this book which features Michael working his last day as a Sand Hog - men who work underground New York City on a project spanning many years that will help Manhattanites continue to have a supply of water for years to come. While I was fascinated by the work done by the Sand Hogs and researched it a bit, I was a little confused as to why the story began this way instead of with Greta. By the end of the prologue though, things are clear and the reader already knows a bit of how things will turn out for Greta. The turning point of this novel occurs in the middle of the book and while things certainly 'come to a head' if you will at the end of the novel, there is never really a great climactic moment for the reader - though we know there will be for Greta.
Having said that, I would certainly recommend this book. It is beautifully written and I found myself completely absorbed by it. I loved the varying settings of the novel and getting to know Greta from her youth through adulthood. It is a family sage for sure, and a wonderful portrayal of the modern Irish immigrant experience in America.
The Walking People will be published on May 20 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Many thanks to them for this review copy.