Aaron McCloud, teacher of writing at a college in New York, returns to County Kerry to offer his most noble feelings of grief to the winds and waves of the sea, mourning in grand style his love spurned by Phila Rambeaux, a student. Well, to be honest, his feelings could only be said to be “spurned” if the object of his desire had any clue that Aaron wanted her love, but she remained woefully ignorant of his every intention. Never mind, grief there was and grief there was to be experienced and expressed and to this end the noble Aaron has undertaken the arduous trip back to his childhood home, now owned by his aunt Kitty McCloud. The last leg of this trip, by bus, is interrupted by a herd of pigs in the road; the passengers, ready for some fun and exercise, depart to help the swineherd, Lolly McKeever, bring them round. Aaron selects the single most recalcitrant, ornery, prescient, obdurate and, well, pig-headed swine of the lot to attempt retrieval. He fails, his bus has reloaded and departed again, and he is left with the company of this same pig who seems to have become attached to him. Both are picked up by Kieran Sweeney and taken to Kitty’s. Here continues a roistering, grand tale of Hibernian hyperbole, rhetoric that sweeps the reader along, helpless, giggling, weeping from laughter and accepting of every single surreal turn of plot in this story.
I was informed by a Welsh woman, some years ago, that genealogically I had not a drop of Celtic blood in my family history; that I was Anglo-Saxon, through and through. I was equally devastated and freed by this pronouncement—devastated because, well, the Celts are the artists, the singers, the bards, the storytellers, the creative ones; but on hearing it and knowing it to be true, I was freed from any shame in lacking the gland producing chimerical creations. This does not mean, however, I am incapable of enjoying the Irish storytelling tilt-a-whirl, and that’s what this story is. I cannot remember when I’ve guffawed out loud, page after page. There’s the pig: who does it belong to? Did it come by its destructive ways naturally, or is there something supernaturally determined about it? Who killed Declan Tovey? Who is in love with whom? Scattered throughout the belly-laughs are true spiritual realizations, such as Aaron’s dead great-aunt Molly telling him: “We’ve been taken into a mystery. See? It’s all around us and we know nothing but itself. Everything is mystery—and we accept it to God’s glory. So give up being afraid. And be Irish again, for the moment at least. And wise as well. Learn—and fast—to live with mystery. And to die with it, too. Now let me kiss your foolish forehead… and you’ll be afraid no more.”
This is not a book to be read—it’s more to be ridden, hanging on by the pig’s ears, and let it take you where it will, and above all, for the reader to accept this truth: “What stood in the way, implacably, was the resistance in these parts to easy clarifications. Indifference to the simple seemed indigenous, the insistence on complexity congenital, and the reach for widening involvement gleefully encouraged.” Next stop: to acquire the audio of this piece, which like all true Irish storytelling demands to be heard. What fun!