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traditional Irish song, Narrative Singing in Ireland opens up a number of previously neglected issues for general discussion and challenges received opinions. It could serve as a model of works on a whole range of topics in Irish folksong—and certainly as an inspiration to the field in its successful attempt to, at last, broaden discussion of traditional Irish song beyond the pages of the scholarly journals. —Julie Henigan The Next Parish Over: A Collection of Irish-American Writing, ed. Patricia Monaghan, pp. 367, Minneapolis: New Rivers Press, 1993, $15.95. The purpose of this new anthology of work by fifty-seven poets and writers of short fiction is, according to a blurb on its cover, to offer a ``vivid and stunning insight into what it means to be Irish in America today.” It is quite debatable how well this text has achieved its purpose. The stories and poems collected here can be quite touching, but the portrait of Irish-Americaness they jointly compose is a painful distortion. Is this dreary catalogue of drunkenness, self-pity, child abuse, bawling melodramatics, family hatred, and venality truly representative of the psychology of Americans of Irish descent? The anthology is arranged into three parts: “The Stories, Like Hidden Tongues”; “The Furies and the Silences”, and “Lost, and Found Everywhere.” The first part attempts to show connections between modern Irish Americans and their pasts, though Kay Porterfield’s lovely “Spilled Milk” is the only story that really touches on Irish history. The anthology’s second part, as its title suggests, deals with the darker side of the Irish personality; the pages are drenched in blood and whiskey. The title of the last section suggests a theme of “belonging,” but the writings concern themselves with reconciling Irish Americans to their seemingly miserable condition. That “condition” thematically propels writings in all three sections, and serves to unify the anthology. It can best be described as a sort of tribal self-hatred: “Where I grew up,” Joseph Gahagan writes in his compelling story “Island People,” “pain was something you only inflicted upon those you loved[.]” Consistently, these writings pose the dilemma of a protagonist trapped in an ambivalent relationship with a difficult, loathsome, or violent family. Tricia Bauer’s wonderfully nerve-wracking story “New House” describes an excruciating visit from the narrator’s kitschy urban Irish clan. The protaganist of Catherine Brady’s “The Custom of the Country” gets even with her brutish father when, one Christmas, she embarrasses him by making him dance, dressed as Santa Claus, in front of his entire family. The sixteen-year-old speaker of Darcy Cummings’ heartbreaking poem “Speaking With My Father” establishes her independence from her alcoholic parent by earning enough money to pay him rent. And on and on through sixty-nine stories and poems. Sometimes, these characters break free of their Irish roots, like the narrator of BOOK REVIEWS 180 Barbara Adams’s “The Irish Cop’s Niece,” and one can understand why they are eager to escape; the story is peopled with the most egregious caricatures since Eliot’s Apeneck Sweeney. Sometimes they return to their roots, like Kevin O’Neill in Gahagan’s “Island People,” who regards the re-establishment of his Irishness as a sort of defeat. But with only a handful of exceptions—Tom McCarthy’s brief poem “Grandpa,” or Alison Townsend’s even briefer poem “Persian Carpet,” for example —Irishness appears throughout the book as a burden and Irish families turn out to be necessarily dysfunctional. This is not to say that these writings are poor work. On the contrary, most are quite accomplished, and many, like those mentioned above, demonstrate a superior sense of craft. Some, like Kerry Dolan’s lyrical story, “Hit or Miss,” are really remarkable. Consider Eileen Hennessy’s searing and unforgettable “Electra in the Kindergarten Bathroom”: In that slag-heap of peach plastic babydoll bodies flung into the toy bassinet near the bathroom door, there must be three who look like us, my sister strangled by her cord, my sister killed by a hole in her heart and me[.] Rather, it is The Next Parish Over’s claim of representative, cumulative portrayal that is open to question. Certainly...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1550-5162
Print ISSN
0013-2683
Pages
pp. 180-182
Launched on MUSE
2017-08-31
Open Access
No
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