“Clementine Lane” by Eoghan Brunkard

Genre: Contemporary Urban FictionClementine Lane
Publisher: Self Published
Publication Date: April 26, 2021

The writer, Eoghan Brunkard, found me on an online book distributor site where authors can submit their books to reviewers.  I usually do not accept books from this site because, in my opinion, they tend to offer low quality novels. (Yes, I can be a book snob). In the author’s request, he wrote, “Clementine Lane is a humorous, often empathetic, look at ordinary peoples’ lives in contemporary Ireland.”  This caught my interest so I figured I’d give it a try. I am glad that I did because I found the novel to be well-written, poignant, and laugh-out-loud funny. “Clementine” reminded me of the movie, “The Commitments,” which also took place in Dublin’s working-class inner-city.  Like in the film, there are colorful, foul-mouthed, fast-talking, and loveable characters. “Phyllis and Shane were good people and raised their children with interest, but they also raised them as they were raised.” Phyllis finds her 8-year-old son outdoors at night. “What are you doing out at this fucking time?!” Yet later in the tale, she complains about her 14-year-old daughter’s language. “With that foul mouth of yours? God forgive me, I don’t know where you get it from.”

The heart of the tale begins in an abandoned warehouse when Phyllis’s daughter befriends an adult male who is a homeless alcoholic. She asks him, “how did you end up like this, anyway?”  He replies, “I have been asked that a lot…I have an answer already pre-prepared like a job interview.” His silly answer to the girl answers nothing. This is how the author cleverly reminds us, without preaching, that addiction can happen to anyone. The story’s tension derives from a drug rehab that has been granted permission to open up a center in the lane. The residents take a ‘Not In My Backyard’ stand.  We get an ugly and honest front row look on the stigma faced by those struggling with addiction. “We’ll be terrified that a junkie will have a go or try to sell shite to the kids.” 

The author sets his stage with vivid descriptions of the neighborhood, which include cottages meant for a small family. “However, liberal lust mixed with conservative Catholicism meant they usually housed a larger one.” As the lane widens, you will find rows of flats. Between them lies a basketball court with no hoops in a perpetually locked playground, “an amenity that the locals cannot be trusted with.” There is a former nunnery, where God must still be looking down on them because outside the building sits a thriving, “beautiful cherry blossom, which in April fills the dreary urban landscape with pink petals.” And, in the evenings, the “silver serpent street lamps slowly hissed to life outside Cartigan’s pub.” It could be said that in today’s apostate times the pub is more religiously frequented than St. Luke’s Church. But, don’t worry about the residents’ souls because Father Thomas can usually be found there too since the church closes at nighttime. “The wrong type tended to pray at 9.pm on a Friday night.”

“Clementine” should be read with a pint of ale or cider in hand. Still, while remaining in a comedy-parable style, empathy and the “importance of community in an increasingly isolating and individualizing world” is the recurring theme. A minor character who is a journalist visits the lane and decides to write an article, which he will call “Forgotten Pieces.” His motivation comes from “watching a couple aged by heroin, though they were probably just in their 40s.” Weaved into the plot is a children-scaring nun mystery that has haunted the lane for a century. It is an amusing side plot that does not distract from the story but it is not necessarily needed. It may be overkill. My funny bone did not need further tickling. The novel is peppered with “Irish Speak.” A glossary is included for non-Irish readers like myself. After the glossary, there is an “About The Author” page where he shares that in real life he has worked on inner-city community development projects. When one of his characters says, “We must remember not to lose sight of the human in the addiction,” it is fair to guess that is the author’s sentiment as well. Without resorting to too much sentimentality, “Clementine” is a fun, moving tale that is wiser than it initially lets on.

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the author at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

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“The Exact Nature of Our Wrongs” by Janet Peery

Genre:         Adult Fiction                    The Exact Nature of our Wrongs

Pub. Date:   September 19, 2017

Publisher:    St. Martin’s Press

Tolstoy’s begins “Anna Karenina” with his now famous first line of “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” That opening is a fitting way to begin this review by author, Janet Peery, a National Book Award finalist in 1996.   In this character-driven novel, her work has shades of Jonathan Franzen’s, “The Corrections.”   “Exact Nature” is a family drama that looks into the dynamics of a family in Kansas as the parents enter their sunset years. The wife has been a homemaker and her husband is a retired judge who is now showing signs of dementia. They had six children but lost one child decades earlier after a lifetime of health issues.  The surviving five adult children are well into middle-age and learning how to cope with their aging parents.  Unfortunately, their children might be living in their middle-aged bodies, but seem trapped within their ten-year-old minds, filled with sibling rivalry. The children (still in competition for being the favorite) all have eyes on their parents’ estate that they hope to inherit, especially one special chair of their father’s.

In an obvious attempt to obtain the chair, the youngest daughter suggests hosting an 89th birthday party for the father.  She innocently suggests bringing the chair over to her home so he can sit in it during the party.  The siblings all see right through this and they are annoyed.  The reader is chuckling.  At the party, the youngest, their mother’s favorite, passes out in the birthday cake.  The youngest is a charming, sweet, gay man who is also hopelessly drug-addicted.  They realize once again they will need to drag him to rehab.  But it soon becomes clear that, although the youngest is the designated problem child, all the children have issues.  Unlike the youngest, they are functioning, but still struggle with prescription drugs, maintaining long-term relationships, foreclosure, DUIs (thank goodness the judge still has some influence), and a hidden sexual identity issue.   None are shining stars.  In other words, they are your typical dysfunctional family, and they are all unhappy in their own way.  But here is the thing: they are as caring as they are troubled.  And throughout the story, just when you think they are terrible to one another, you come to see their unbreakable bonds.  You will giggle when the daughters take their mom on a “mother-daughter” day road trip to see her childhood home.  They almost kill each other through bickering, yet the end result is heartwarming.

In beautiful prose, Perry, gives us a portrayal of real life, with characters as flawed as real people. We are given an authentic year in their lives, complete with medical, emotional, mental, physical, and financial troubles.   I found this novel to be a spot-on family portrait, with its members still loving each other for who they are.  A story about forgiveness without being preachy, it left me with lingering warmth.  This is a good book to help one remember that in today’s world we all seem obsessed with appearing perfect, when in reality none of us are or ever will be.  The youngest son spends time wondering how there can be so many troubles in a family built around a marriage that seemed trouble-less by comparison.  He is unable to find an answer.  The reader is free to make their own conclusion, for Perry does not tell us. We are left with the thought-provoking question of just what makes a family a happy or unhappy one.   It may not be as simple as Tolstoy suggested.

I received this novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

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