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cioeconomic conditions of modern Irish America. Without these sorts of frames, the writing in The Next Parish Over comes to us befret of intelligent context. Nor do they demonstrate much sympathy for the Irish experience. It is not being Pollyannaish to wonder why, among the work of nearly sixty contributors to the anthology, the only aspect of Irishness that is thoroughly explored is its gruesomeness . The effect of reading this dreary anthology, poem after poem, story after story, is like standing on a streetcorner in an alien city, and watching the passage of a parade of grotesques. —Ron Ebest The Brooklyn Book of the Dead, by Michael Stephens, pp. 228, Normal, IL: Dalkey Archive Press, 1994, $19.95. The Brooklyn Book of the Dead is Michael Stephen’s sequel to Season at Coole (1972). This new novel is as pessimistic as its predecessor in depicting the Irish-American experience in East New York. The raucous, swearing, and drunken voices of the now sixteen children of the recently deceased Inspector Coole and his long dead wife Rose Moody, are still as shrill and overwhelming as in the earlier book. Discord and dissonance, the key elements of the Coole family, continue to dominate the tone, banishing any sentimentality or romanticization of the Irish-American household, as the children sullenly gather in a Brooklyn funeral parlor to wake their father. The characters seem to carry within their genetic makeup the sectarian strife and hopelessness without the heroism and romanticism of legendary Ireland. Evoking the classic structure of tragedy by dividing the book into five sections, Stephens subverts the genre in his portrayal of the pathetic life of this Brooklyn family who happen to be Irish-American and typically Irish in their assimilative tendencies. In their East New York neighborhood they are inadvertently steeped in a true melting pot of Jewish, Italian, African-American and Irish culture. For instance, the children have proudly assumed that their Grandmother’s various ethnic expressions were Gaelic; they are stunned and feel disillusioned upon discovery that most of the phrases are Yiddish idioms Grandma Coole picked up in the neighborhood. Stephens moves the story forward by tantalizing the reader’s curiosity over what secrets will be revealed next and whose motivations and antipathies will be unveiled to explain the ghastly situation of this family. As the liquor, conversation, and memories flow, the siblings reveal the sterility and terrors of their childhood. Though not as brutal as their father, most of the children are addicts and criminals of one sort or another. The oldest brother, Leland, is now a mellowed, sober, fiftyish, 350-pound bachelor, still feared, however, by the younger brothers for his boyhood cruelties. The next-in-line, Emmett, is an emaciated, crack-addicted alcoholic. Assuming that his brothers are close to the criminal element in Brooklyn, BOOK REVIEWS 182 Michael, the literary third son, keeps approaching them for information for the book he is writing on Irish gangsters in Hell’s Kitchen. The child worst off appears to be Terry, long the scapegoat for the father’s anger, who is a “psycho,” lately living in an abandoned bus out on Long Island, but now befret of even that meager shelter. Familiar Irish alcoholism, family divisiveness, hope betrayed, and exile are played out among the siblings. In the funeral parlor setting and through a series of flashbacks, the sons and daughters reminisce both together and privately about their father’s crippling legacy. As they debate his influence on their lives, they work toward a resolution as barren as this urban wasteland. The essential question is whether the failure of the American Dream for the Coole family lies in their Irish heritage, as represented by their parents, or in the failure of America itself. As a parent, Coole seems to have left his children with little more than the abilities to fight dirty and to get drunk. Although the father has barely managed to provide physically for his sixteen children, one desperate image after another evokes spiritual and emotional poverty. Nonetheless , his power, even in death, draws them together as a family one more time. The two novels seem partially autobiographical. Stephen’s father, like Inspector Coole, was...


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pp. 182-183
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