Salt of the Earth

You would think I’m only into urban drug mythologies or post-conflict Africa– considering my two big projects at the moment. But in my reading life, this week, anyways, I am dwelling in the salty, seductive world of the Irish immigrant. I’m also setting a sort of wager between these two books, both short-listed for this year’s IMPAC Dublin Award, with the biggest cash prize for a literary work: $157 000 for the top novel. Besides winning all those literary smackers, the thing I love about the prize is the gaggle of librarians who nominate the short-listers, with their quiet, yet discerning ways. 


If the IMPAC were up to me, I’d vote for Michael Crummey’s Galore, a gorgeous, sprawling family epic, this time on the craggy shores of Newfoundland. The setting is the protagonist here: a pair of outport hamlets where boys become fishermen, girls become their stout wives, and occasionally something miraculous is birthed from the belly of a giant fish. It happens more than once. A long time ago, I heard Crummey open for M. Atwood at a huge auditorium-style reading; his lithe little sex scene had the moms in the audience all a twitter. After the show we played Truth or Dare at the bar and he told us he would sleep his way to the top of the literary world if he had to. HA! You don’t have to sleep to the top any more Michael Crummey!

Colm Toibin’s Brooklyn is another heart-tugging bet. This one follows a charming little Irish nobody, Eilis Lacey, as she ventures far from her post-war Irish home to a lonely life in NYC. She is the quintessential country mouse with a boatload of Catholic guilt and a penchant for new stockings. Her cute Italian boyfriend can’t even loosen her up, and maybe that’s what I found refreshing– a girl who isn’t bursting out of her girdle to get dirty in New York, but a shy type who contains multitudes. I also like the shop-girl antics, and the sluttier Irish girls around her and the warty old Irish marms hell-bent on ruining their lives. Though it might not be as epic as Galore, I’m calling for this one to win the IMPAC Dublin this year. Brooklyn is a surprising, sweet girl story told by a man… and an Irish charmer at that.