Review

Everything in This Country Must: A Novella

by Colum McCann

Colum McCann, author of the novels SONGDOGS and THIS SIDE OF BRIGHTNESS and a brilliant short story collection, FISHING THE SLOE-BLACK RIVER, deftly turns his pen to a novella and two stories in his newest offering.

EVERYTHING IN THIS COUNTRY MUST focuses on Northern Ireland and its long-standing conflicts. However, instead of immersing these tales in political rhetoric or bloody confrontations, McCann takes a more personal approach that is even more devastating because of its subtle intensity.

In the title story, a summer flood provides the backdrop for personal loss tainted by political convolutions when a beloved horse trapped in the rising waters is rescued by the enemy.

"Father sat down on the riverbank and said, Sitdown Katie, and I could hear in Father's voice more sadness than when he was over Mammy's and Fiachra's coffins, more sadness than the day after they were hit by the army truck down near the Glen, more sadness than the day when the judge said, Nobody is guilty it's just a tragedy, more sadness than even that day and all the other days that follow."

In "Wood," a mother and son surreptitiously mill logs for a political rally, needing the money as the family's wage earner lies in bed recovering from a stroke. The quiet desperation of the pair as they try to split and round and drag the wood without attracting the notice of a father who would surely disapprove of their activities is where McCann shows his genius at minimalism. He pulls us into the conspiracy, only hinting at the politics behind the woman's determination, and our hearts beat faster as she valiantly transforms wood into pride.

The novella, "Hunger Strike," is the most outwardly political of the pieces in this collection. An adolescent is drawn into a world from which his mother has long tried to protect him when his imprisoned uncle starves himself in protest. As the hunger strike progresses, the boy's relationship with his mother runs a tandem course of deterioration. "Hunger Strike" is a gut-wrenching tale of violence only temporarily smothered by a mother's love.

In crisp, unparalleled prose, Colum McCann illustrates the true tragedies that the Troubles in Northern Ireland have wrought by focusing on the personal and intense minutiae that make up human beings' lives, no matter their political persuasions.

  --- Reviewed by Jami Edwards

Reviewed by Jami Edwards on January 21, 2011

Everything in This Country Must: A Novella
by Colum McCann

  • Publication Date: March 7, 2001
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Picador
  • ISBN-10: 0312273185
  • ISBN-13: 9780312273187