On a bitterly cold, windy winter day, Michael and Caitlin meet at Coney Island. It is deserted, shuttered, “…a place for the damned to drift, wait their turn at nothingness.” They’ve been meeting here for twenty or so years, spending one afternoon a month (first Tuesdays) in a series of worn motel rooms, and this one particular winter afternoon frames the entirety of Billy O’Callaghan’s poignant novel. This afternoon is no different from all those that came before, but they are growing older, and for all those years, at the end of all those first Tuesdays, Michael returns to Barb and Caitlin returns to Thomas. Lives are lived, time passes. We are bound, and the status quo is durable. But what about endings? Will there be a hiding place from endings? Will we even recognize them when they come?
Mr. O’Callaghan is an Irishman with a prodigious gift, the gift of words, words that rasp, tumble, lilt, thunder and ravish. At times, perhaps, a bit self-indulgent, but if you love the magic of words, this is pure pleasure all the same. In spite of this bounty, I was not totally invested in Michael and Caitlin as a couple, in their relationship, the doggedness of it. It just seems so unlikely. Is “why” the central question, the one we’re meant to ask? If so, then I’m asking it, but the answer is beyond me.
There are three books of short stories and one other novel, The Dead House, by this talented author, and, based on the richness he brings to the backstories of Michael and Caitlin in Coney Island Baby, I’m thinking short fiction may be his forte, but no matter. He can write the lights out.
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Full Disclosure: A review copy of this book was provided to me by HarperCollins Publishers / Harper via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I would like to thank the publisher, the author and NetGalley for providing me this opportunity. All opinions expressed herein are my own.