A young girl's misguided moment, a flash in time, produces consequences that spiral outward, fracturing hearts and souls for decades to come. AN IRISHWOMAN'S TALE may be Patti Lacy's debut novel, but it flows with the depth, imagery and intensity of books written by seasoned, bestselling authors. From the rugged, green cliffs of rural 1940s Ireland to present-day Illinois, the reader embarks on a voyage of shattered hearts and jumbled lives, linking the fragmented pieces together as Mary Freeman, the result of that misguided moment, reveals her history. Listening with her heart wide open is Mary's new friend Sally, a feisty Southern woman who suspected all along there were stories and secrets hiding in Mary's heart.
And so the first thread of the tale unravels. Ireland, 1948. A pregnant teenage girl, Kathleen, goes house to house looking for work, only to face harsh words, hateful stares and slamming doors. No one wants to deal with that kind of trash. Alone, afraid and hungry, she continues in vain until starvation and labor pains send her crashing into unconsciousness. When she awakens in a doctor's office, she is the mother of baby girl Mary Elizabeth. Eeking out a meager living, Kathleen tolerates the hardships of servanthood --- anything to keep her precious little Mary by her side. After five years, she finds herself returning to her family's home, where a "match" awaits her, a chance to be a proper wife and mother. Kathleen marries Killian, and the nightmare begins.
"Get 'er ut of here." Moon-shaped faces stared at Mary across the round, oaken table, then guzzled tea. Stared. Guzzled. Cup after cup of the steaming stuff.
"Ye can't mean it," Mam screamed. "Not now. She's all o' a bloody five."
"The little eejit. Get 'er out."
A fist crashed to the table. Cups and saucers and cigarettes flew. Tea splattered onto the wall, onto the front of Killian's shirt.
"Ye swine." Mam was in Killian's face. "For the sake of St. Patrick, she's my flesh and blood."
Before her sixth birthday, Mary is sent away without so much as a last hug from her beloved Mam. She arrives in Illinois to live with the Harrises and is told they are her new parents. In this strange new land and beautiful modern house, Mary lies alone for the first time, wondering why she was sent away and why her mam betrayed her. The questions burn in her heart, but the answers won't come for 40 years. During that time, Mary longs for love, friendship and an understanding of all that has happened to her. She aches to be a child of God, at times fearing His rejection, then seeking Him, then turning from Him in anger and frustration. The pattern continues, until Mary is grown and married with two daughters and caring for her invalid stepmother.
Enter Sally, a Southern transplant whose easy ways, colorful humor and homespun honesty draw Mary in, leading her to wonder if this could be the friend she's always wanted. On a quiet, snowy afternoon, Mary unravels a tapestry of deception, loneliness, drugs and alcohol, and voices. With a little nudge from Sally, Mary heads back to her homeland in search of answers. At long last she comes face to face with the only One who can truly provide them.
AN IRISHWOMAN'S TALE, the first installment in the Kaleidoscope series, is a true page-turner, a phrase I'd normally reserve for thrillers or mysteries. It draws you in --- serene at first, like the peaceful photo of Ireland on the cover, then grips you like a riptide and there's no putting it down. You want to climb right into the pages and rescue one character, hug another, slap another and pray for them all. You won't want to stop until your eyes soak in the very last word.
Reviewed by Susan Miura on July 8, 2008