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Everything in This Country Must: A Novella and Two Stories
by Colum McCann
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0312273185, Paperback)The three teenagers at the heart of Colum McCann's Everything in This Country Must have been fostered alike by beauty and by fear. Since they're from Northern Ireland, alas, the latter gained ground a long time ago. For them, there will always be a better before--before sectarian division and violence rent their families, before illness and death. In the title story, a 15-year-old and her farmer father fight to save his favorite draft horse, which has caught itself in a sudden flood:
The trees bent down to the river in a whispering and they hung their long shadows over the water and the horse jerked quick and sudden and I felt there would be a dying, but I pulled the rope up to keep her neck above water, only just.As Katie and her father work, quickly, hopelessly, she fills in the gaps: the shame she feels at being slow, how her mother and brother were killed. In her eyes, all nature is alive and witness to the mare's dying, "since everything in this country must"--the connections are everywhere. The connections between humans, however, are not. When six British soldiers, "all guns and helmets," smash through the hedgerow to help, her father would rather sacrifice his horse than be grateful to the enemy. And even after one man risks drowning to rescue the horse, despair at the past destroys the present.
Though there is no overt death in McCann's second story, "Wood," the unsaid and the unsayable cast a pall over another family. After his father has a stroke, Sam and his mother must work by night in the family mill, making poles for banners for a political march. Despite their attempts at silence, the two are discovered, and this time the natural world seems somehow complicit in Ireland's factional wrath: "I looked at the oak trees behind the mill. They were going mad in the wind. The trunks were big and solid and fat, but the branches were slapping each other around like people."
Katie and Sam still have the capacity for wonder that has been worried out of their parents. McCann's third child, however, does not. In "Hunger Strike," a mother and son have gone from north to south for safety, a move that fills the 13-year-old with resentment. One gesture of kindness too many and he'll explode. Much has been made of the fact that in this collection McCann has confronted the Troubles for the first time. Equal attention should be paid to his exquisite, elemental narration--you never know which word will come next, and you're always desperate to find out. --Kerry Fried
(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:05:23 -0400)
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