Book Simple: The Perfect Book For A Dysfunctional Family Thanksgiving
If you’re worrying about traveling home this holiday week, afraid of the salt-in-old-wounds feeling familial criticism can generate, be thankful at least for this: you’re not Frank Mackay. Frank is the narrator of Tana French’s new novel Faithful Place. He ran away from his family at nineteen, desperate to escape “the bubbling cauldron of crazy that is the Mackeys at their finest.” He never intended to come back. But one evening he comes home to an answering machine blinking full of messages from his baby sister Jackie. The family has found a suitcase hidden in an abandoned apartment. It’s got Rosie Daly’s birth certificate in it.
Who is Rosie Daly? In the ‘seventies, “Dublin was brown and gray and beige all over, back then, and Rosie was a dozen bright colors: an explosion of copper curls right down to her waist, eyes like chips of green glass held up to the light, red mouth and white skin and gold freckles.” Rosie was Frank’s first love; they were going to run away together. But she didn’t show up that night, leaving Frank with a note and hope. “That bitch Rosie, see” Frank recalls, “I believed her, every word. Rosie never played games; she just opened her mouth and told you, straight out, even if it hurt…So when she said I swear I’ll come back someday, I believed her for twenty-two years.”
In the interim, Frank has been living in modern Dublin, “on the quays, in a massive apartment block built in the nineties by, apparently, David Lynch.” This amused me, of course, because my own living style since the grand move has been a feminized version of Frank’s “divorcé chic” in a similarly creepy carpeted urban hive. His life consists of his job, as a police officer running undercover operations, and his daughter Holly, the impetus of his brief marriage to “jaw-droppingly tasteful” Olivia and his best incentive to leave his lower class origins behind.
Drawn back to Faithful Place, “a cramped cul-de-sac tucked away in the middle [of the Liberties] like a wrong turn in a maze,” Frank discovers that little has changed for the Mackay family. His brother Shay still works at the bike shop and his brother Kevin still charms the girls; his father still drinks in secret, his mother is still “fueled by an endless supply of disapproval.” The porch light of Number 8 Faithful Place “erased the wrinkles and the gray streaks, fined the heaviness off Kevin’s jaw and wiped the makeup off Jackie, till it was the five of us, fresh and cat-eyed and restless in the dark, spinning our different dreams.”
It’s funny, because Frank’s early history is reminiscent of nothing so much as a particularly violent Frank McCourt passage, but the book’s setting is modern. Our Frank worries about the impact of Paris Hilton and spurious fame on his daughter’s psyche; his brother Shay notes the banks pulling in credit as the Irish economic bubble starts to burst.
The economist in me loves thinking about how fast Ireland changed in a single generation, how fast economic development alters what is expected about the comforts of life, but this change does create some difficulties. “I had no clue how to explain the difference between working poor and scumbag poor to a kid who thought everyone had a computer,” Frank discovers while trying to convey to Holly their shared family history, “or how to explain vulgar to a kid who was growing up on Britney Spears, or how to explain to anyone at all how this situation had turned into such a terminal mess.”
Despite the painful ugliness of the family dynamic, these are sympathetic characters – all of them. Their motives, explained slowly through flashbacks and the investigation process strip the dust from the mystery until the bones of the tragedy appear. There’s some heavy use of foreshadowing; I was able to guess the murderer almost from the character’s introduction, but the reveal still hit like a punch to the gut. Faithful Place rings of Dashiell Hammett with a Dublin accent – you’ll want to read it with a glass of whiskey by your side and an appreciation for familial chaos in your heart. Happy Thanksgiving, everybody.
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