Emer Martin’s second novel (after Breakfast in Babylon) begins in a hallucinogenic
version of Frank McCourt’s washed-out Ireland and winds up poolside in Hawaii, where a gay whiskey priest is recuperating after plastic surgery. In between Dublin and Maui, the narrative bounces from New York to Miami to Tokyo to
Vegas to Mexico City to
Havana to mosquito-plagued Central American villages.
You could get jet lag without ever leaving your armchair.
The priest in question is
Oscar, expatriate uncle to five red-haired Irish lads and
lasses: Aisling, Orla, Siobhan, Patrick, and Keelin. Having made good in America, Oscar returns periodically to visit his twin sister, Molly, and her brood. Keelin might actually make something of herself, while Aisling strides across the earth like a giant out of Irish legend, larger than life with her red mane and “massive power of thighs.” Molly sits passive by the telly, growing larger as her children grow up fretful around her, prey to “the doubting disease,” their father’s obsessive-compulsive disorder. Not much else is left for them; Ireland has given itself over to “television, history, and the church; Rome kept their souls, England took their language and their land, and now America had captured their imagination.”
At last Aisling makes her escape; but soon the postcards stop coming, and Molly sends capable Keelin and anorexic Siobhan after her. The two get drunk, get high, dally with
Aisling’s former lovers and friends as they search the world for their sister, “history’s escapee,” a creature evolving beyond the reach of blood and family. There are the bones of a good tale here, and more than a little lovely language. But as Martin’s characters stagger around the globe, bingeing and obsessing instead of
developing, the book’s surest theme keeps getting left
behind, like a suitcase that doesn’t make the connecting flight: “They had all stolen a brief existence from an indifferent history, and in the end these borrowed lives would break their hearts.”