Saturday, October 10, 2015

BROOKLYN by Colm Toibin

Eilis Lacey would be content to stay in Ireland and take care of her mother.  Unfortunately, that duty falls to Eilis’s popular sister Rose, because Rose has a job.  In many ways, Eilis is a victim of the times (1950s?) in that she has to marry or find a way to earn a living.  (OK, maybe things aren’t that different in the 21st century.)  In Ireland, her prospects are not good for either option.  Father Flood, a priest who lives in Brooklyn, is willing to help relocate Eilis to the U.S., where he can set her up with housing and a job on the shop floor of a department store.  Eilis is not the most confident woman ever to immigrate to our shores, but she is not exactly bewildered, either.  She adapts rather quickly to her new life, despite one severe bout of homesickness.  To help fill the time and to improve her situation at the department store, she enrolls in bookkeeping classes and excels at her studies.  At a dance she meets a young Italian plumber named Tony, and they begin dating.  When tragedy strikes back in Ireland, she has to make some decisions about her future.  A particularly sticky dilemma ensues, and I particularly liked the fact that the author keeps us in the dark about how things will turn out until the last 10 pages of the book.  Eilis is a character who makes some mistakes, but I still admired her pluck, especially in some uncomfortable situations.  She’s not particularly outspoken, but she does let fly a few pointed barbs now and then, particularly to her haughty fellow female boarders in Brooklyn.  The complications in her life seemed very believable to me, and the author does an outstanding job of leading the reader through the series of small steps that land Eilis between a rock and a hard place—a quandary of her own making.  I was afraid that the author might cop out by eliminating one of her choices somehow, but he does force her hand, finally giving us a clear picture of what she’s made of.  

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