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Match Play is a golf/suspense novel. Dust of Autumn is a bloody one set in upstate New York. Prairie View is set in South Dakota, with a final scene atop Rattlesnake Butte. Life in the Arbor is a children's book about Rollie Rabbit and his friends (on about a fourth grade level). The Black Widow involves an elaborate extortion scheme. Doggy-Dog World is my memoir. And ES3 is a description of my method for examining English sentence structure.
In case anyone is interested in any of my past posts, an archive list can be found at the bottom of this page.
My newest novel, Happy Valley, can be found here.

Wednesday, January 27


Move over Brie Larson; move over Cate Blanchett. I’ve just seen the face of Ireland and her name is Saorise Ronan. If she doesn’t win the Oscar for best actress, it will be a quiet, Irish shame. Saorise Ronan gave us a quiet, quite remarkable portrayal of the Irish immigrant in mid-century America. More precisely, mid-century Brooklyn. I’ve lived in nine different decades, two centuries, two millenniums, and I couldn’t believe how different the world of 1951-52 was from what I remembered it being. The clothes, the hairstyles, the automobiles, the behavior of most people, especially the young people. Did I and my 1951 classmates really look and act that way? Were we really as innocent and nice and naïve as the girls and boys in Brooklyn? I hope so. The operative word for Brooklyn is the one I used twice above, “quiet.” It’s the story of Eilis Lacey, a young, not quite beautiful woman who chooses in 1951 to come to America to find a better life than what she had in Ireland. Her life there isn’t bad, sort of middle-class or even upper middle-class, but she wants more than it can offer, especially when what it was offering was working at a part-time job in a shop run by a truly nasty woman. Her sister Rose wants her to have a better life and saves enough money to send Eilis by ship to the land of plenty. Everything has been taken care of for her—a room in a nice boarding house, a job in a Brooklyn department store, even enough money provided by the Catholic Church to pay for night school at Brooklyn College, where she takes classes in bookkeeping and accounting. She and her fellow boarding house buddies attend weekly dances at a nearby hall, hoping to stave off their boredom, maybe meet a nice man. The dances involve the hokey jitterbugging I was never able to master in my youth, and the foxy two-step I managed to fake. The dresses are, for the most part, painfully and tastelessly colorful, the lipstick that garish red that was so popular back then, the hairstyles long and netted. The furnishings in the boardinghouse are also painfully old-fashioned, with floral wall paper and odd little end tables, lamps with shades no one today would consider. Even her job in the department store brought back a memory I didn’t realize I had, the old tubes that salespeople used to send the cash upstairs with the return by tube of the change. No cash registers back then, at least not in the Penney’s from my Midwestern youth. Eilis meets Tony Fiorello at one of the dances, a nice Italian boy out of place in this predominantly Irish dance hall. They dance, they converse, he walks her home. And often walks her home from work or classes or dances, never any romantic advances, no kissing, not even s parting embrace. Just two young people getting to know each other. How refreshing. How innocent. We have comic elements and real-life elements—practicing the art of spaghetti eating before her meal with Tony’s family, the awkward donning of bathing suit on the Coney Island beach, the growth from innocent Irish immigrant to confident young Irish woman who chooses new world over old, just as many emigres from Europe did in the last century. When sister Rose unexpectedly dies, Eilis returns to comfort her widowed mother. Before she goes, Tony, afraid she may not return, talks her into a secret marriage. She agrees, and the night of the ceremony, she takes him into her basement room (the one with the outside entry because the boarding house owner believes Eilis is the only one trustworthy enough) and they have their first virginal sexual encounter. It was the most chaste sexual act I’ve seen in the past fifty years of cinema sex. Silent (because the house mother would evict her if she heard any moaning), almost fully-clothed, quickly concluded (as I remember nearly all such 1950’s encounters to be). The rest of the story plays out in her decision to stay in Ireland or to return to Tony and Brooklyn. There are no spoiler alerts here because none are needed. This movie doesn’t depend on suspense; all it needs is Saorise Ronan giving us a quiet, lovely Irish-American girl. Or should that be an American-Irish girl? It was a quiet, feel-good film that nicely evaded any soap-opera elements or tear-jerking dramatics. Good for you, Saorise Ronan. Good luck in the upcoming Oscars.
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