Angels of Destruction
Keith Donohue’s second novel (following the success of his
debut, THE STOLEN CHILD) begins on a frozen night with Margaret
Quinn opening the door to Norah, a waif “just shy of nine.
Old enough to be [Margaret’s] own granddaughter, had such a
child ever existed,” 10 years after her own daughter, Erica,
ran off with one of the title destructive angels, a radical student
Indeed, Erica discovers she is pregnant en route to San
Francisco to join the Angels of Destruction. Her friend,
appropriately named Wiley, abandons her and the unborn child in New
Mexico, complicating her life with committing heinous crimes that
prevent her from returning home. Erica and Wiley meet
“angels” along the way that reveal themselves only to
those who ask for guidance. One not asked by Erica is a
nine-year-old identical to Norah, both possessing the same
miniature tea cup that holds wishes and hopes for believers.
Readers must forever question if Erica’s unborn child became
an angel, perhaps with abortion.
Donohue sets time spans for the reader by recapping news events:
Patty Hearst and the SLA, Sputnik, Vice President Nixon. Stilted
text (“a bus ingested passengers”) and implausible
passages make for inattentive reading at certain points in the
novel, and three-page chapters bounce the reader like a ball
between generations. For literature’s sake --- and perhaps
elusive hope --- scenes struggle to work. Fantasy and imagination
work, though, as evidenced by the 1995 movie Powder.
The Quinn family is a microcosm of society over decades of
incidents. Margaret’s spouse, Paul, was a military physician
who ended suffering of “survivors” after
Nagasaki’s atomic destruction, engaging in the macabre dance
of assisted suicide. That 25-year-old dance drives a wedge between
Erica and her father, neither understanding the motivations of the
other. Paul does not understand the ’60s social revolution
and is further distanced from their only child, dying shortly after
Erica fledges from the nest in search of moral feathers.
ANGELS OF DESTRUCTION delicately walks a fine line between
fantasy and realism, sometimes teetering too much to one side. But
which one? A mysterious fedora-wearing figure who is never fully
revealed haunts central characters by always being on the
periphery, and constantly gives cause for doubt. Or to believe. Is
he imagination, dreams, self-doubt or evil incarnate --- perhaps a
destructive angel not of the radical student group type?
Author interference competes with impossibly precocious
nine-year-old Norah to pace the plot. Rarely would one so young
opine that “rabbis say that with every breath, God exhales an
angel” without first-hand knowledge. Ay, there’s
the rub. If Norah is an angel, precociousness can be reasoned.
But what of equal-age friend Sean Fallon? He too ponders wonders
beyond those of their age, questioning the ability of angels to
fly. “Some aspect of aerodynamics seemed all wrong.” He
questions, but does he believe? If angels appear only to
those who ask, was Margaret’s desire to reunite with Erica
the cause of Norah’s appearance that winter night?
On the Day of Cupids, shortly after Norah mysteriously appears,
she informs fellow third graders with the fervency of a
fire-and-brimstone sermon that she is an angel. Set in symbolic
winter, ANGELS OF DESTRUCTION is a story of second chances to amend
lost opportunities, with spring --- hope --- in sight. The film
poster for Ghost with Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore would
have us to believe. ANGELS encourages the same.
For a brief time after seeing Miracle on 34th Street,
it’s easy to believe in Santa Claus. Many youngsters believe,
until gifts continue arriving long after doubts linger. Donohue
asks that we set aside doubts and once again believe, not
in Santa but in angels.
Reviewed by L. Dean Murphy (DeanMurphy@Verizon.net). on December 22, 2010
Angels of Destruction
- Publication Date: December 31, 1969
- Genres: Fiction
- : pages