May 20, 2009

The Walking People by Mary Beth Keane

Mary Beth Keane titles her debut The Walking People in reference to a class of Irish (also called Travellers or Tinkers) who refuse to settle, but instead roam Ireland for the entirety of their lives. These people experience extreme prejudice from those who are settled. The world of the settled and the traveled combine launching the exposition in this extraordinary novel characterizing the modern Irish Immigrant experience as well as complexity of love within familial relationships.

Greta and her sister Joanna are the last inhabitants of an abandoned Irish village. Michael is a traveler desperate to establish roots who settles amongst Greta’s family. Joanna compels both of them to immigrate to America where Joanna struggles eventually returning to Ireland, and yet Greta comes into her own building a life with Michael. However Greta’s life is precariously built on one explosive familial secret destined to be revealed.

This novel begins with Michael’s struggle with Alzheimer’s which begat a slow start. It is required that you slug through the first part of the book to get a handles on the story’s events. This beginning also negates climatic tension as we more or less figure how the story panned itself out. That said the diligent reader will be rewarded. Keane’s writing is steady and the story she tells moving. The characterization of Keane’s subjects is solid with Greta being intensely likable. The Walking People is a worthy read, and Keane is a promising talent.

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