I suppose it was especially fitting that I was reading Anne Enright's "The Green Road" on the run up to that week. Our family, as much as I've tried to deny it all my life (convinced that I'm Italian), has more than a tad of Irish in it and difficult Irish families are Enright's forte. She won a Man Booker award for her wonderful novel "The Gathering," about a family coming home for a wake, and I suspect she will be nominated again for her latest novel even if the subject matter sounds trite. In this case, the family is summoned home for Christmas.
The Irish are renowned for their storytelling prowess, just think of Frank McCourt, Colum McCann, or Colm Toibin. Anne Enright is no exception. If you love lyrical phrases and sharp humor, Enright is your girl. But, if you get frustrated with characters who immediately revert to four-year-olds when they rejoin the bosom of their family, you may decide to stay away.
Rosaleen, the matriarch of the Madigan family, takes to her bed in anguish when her favorite son Dan announces that he plans to join the priesthood. That's a rare reaction from an Irish mother. Certainly my aunts encouraged our cousin George in his delayed vocation. Over the span of thirty years we live with each of the four Madigan children as they struggle to make their way in the world, eschewing the ties that bind them to Rosaleen and County Clare.
Constance marries a kind, loving man with a knack for making money and becomes the quintessential Irish version of a soccer mom, running the kids this way and that in her fancy Lexus, while ballooning in weight, a metaphor for the excess that surrounds her. Emmet, takes the opposite tack, heading to Mali in Africa to work with an NGO that provides for with those who have little or nothing. Hanna finds that having a baby does little to fill the pain in her psyche that only vodka can assuage and Dan, having given up the seminary, lives in New York City where he is free to come out as a gay man yet faces the scourge of the 80's HIV crisis.
So when the resilient Rosaleen, now widowed, decides that it's past time to sell the family manse and simplify her life, she sends her annual Christmas cards with a passive-aggressive taint to the message. She expects them all home in Ireland for Christmas this year.
Could four more disparate siblings convene for a holiday? Can they find common ground? Is there an innate love between brothers, sisters, and parents that surfaces no matter the past disappointments and hurts? Can we eventually accept each other as friends? Enright may answer these questions but she'll raise even more as she brings this fractious family to life on the page.