Monday, December 30, 2013

Slight, yet substantial

We expect multi-generational novels to cover hundreds of pages, yet Terence M. Green's St. Patrick's Bed, published in 2001, is just a skimpy 220 pages, and even then a number of those pages are completely blank. Yet the Canadian author's story, a sequel to Shadow of Ashland, involves three generations of the Nolan family, with references to some earlier ones. If the novel seems slight, it proves itself not insubstantial.

Narrated by Leo Nolan, who like his father before him works in the circulation department of a major Toronto newspaper, the plot primarily deals with what happens when Adam, Leo's 22-year-old adopted son, announces that he wants to meet his actual father, a man named Bobby Swiss, who lives in Dayton, Ohio. Bobby was the teenage boyfriend of Jeanne, Leo's wife, but she and Bobby never married, and they drew apart when Adam was born. Now Adam wants to find out what he is like.

Before Adam makes the trip to Ohio to meet Bobby Swiss, Leo decides to go himself to satisfy his own curiosity about his son's real father and about the man who gave Jeanne a child when he himself has been unable to do so.

That, in a nutshell, is the story, which probably wouldn't even take 220 pages except that Leo's thoughts frequently turn to his father, Tommy Nolan, who has recently died, and to his and his wife's courtship and marriage. These memories, relived with grace and style, fill many of those pages. Green also describes many of the details of Leo's drive to Dayton and back, which includes a stop in my own city of Ashland, Ohio. Clearly Green has taken this drive himself. And that drive is not the only part of the novel that feels like the real thing.

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