“A hard history. A tale of war. Then came the act
that ennobles this bleak tale, shading it, perhaps, to a love
REDEMPTION FALLS is a kaleidoscope of bright and dark pieces that
forms a stunning tale. The surprising narrator has assembled
memories, letters, transcripts, interviews, old fliers and
newspaper clippings to tell the story of General and Mrs.
O’Keeffe and a drummer boy who captured their attention. A
cacophony of characters screams from the pages, their voices all
vying for attention.
Most notable is James (Con) O’Keeffe, who might as well have
gained that nickname from his status as a prisoner, self-released
(without permission) and thereafter quickly took himself off to
America. Sharing center stage with him is his wife, Lucia-Cruz
Rodriguez and Ortega McLelland-O’Keeffe, a woman of great
beauty, means and talent. She provides strength and support ---
often unearned --- to her ungrateful husband. If only she could
make him happy.
After service in the army, during which time Con O’Keeffe
made a name for himself (although opinions vary widely as to
whether good or bad), he wins the very dubious honor of an
appointment by President Lincoln as Governor of his new home state.
He has taken up residence in Redemption Falls, in the Mountain
Territory, an imaginary town served by roads and rails that
sometimes become too dangerous to travel. There are some rough
people hanging about in the Mountain Territory, and some hard times
Lucia, reunited with her husband after the war, turns to writing
poetry as an outlet for her unfulfilled emotions. The man she fell
in love with has changed. The General --- or is it Governor now?
--- often turns surly, bordering on abusive. The couple’s
marriage, which started its decline from nearly the first day of
their matrimony, continues on a downward slope. Lucia is at a loss
to understand why. When not brooding about his slowly revealed
past, O’Keeffe dives deeper into the bottle, pushed there by
that selfsame past.
“How wonderful that would be: to remember nothing. To be
blank, and the road still before you. What would he do differently?
Nearly everything, perhaps.”
The Governor’s drinking has become something of a legend.
Local citizens know not to bother him when he is in his cups, for
his moodiness is not reserved for his wife alone. “Even
back in those days there were whisperings about the drinking ---
was his stallion shot from under him as he led the zouaves at
Fredericksburg, or was its rider the worse for liquor, as some
claimed? They say his temper was vicious, drunk or
But it may not be the drink that is O’Keeffe’s undoing.
It may be the child.
“Twas never proven it was the child done all them things.
He got the blame for every wrong was ever done in that bugtusslin
For some reason, Con O’Keeffe wants to parent the boy.
Keeping O’Keeffe --- and everyone else --- at arm’s
length, Young Jeddo Mooney remains mute, having seen atrocities
that no 12-year-old should have to witness. The war took his family
away; he’s alone in the world now. At least, that’s
what he believes.
Irish author Joseph O’Connor writes with a mournful pen.
Sadness and misery share the same sentence with a quiet wit. The
beauty lies in the creativity, for the mental pictures conjured up
are of exceptional horror.
Don’t expect pretty prose here. REDEMPTION FALLS is a book of
lyrical, ugly and brilliant language. O’Connor’s
vividly rendered images assault the senses, dredging up horrible
pictures of the realities of war. It is not the story so much
that’s remarkable as the telling of it. While some parts are
difficult to get through, the tenacious reader will be richly
rewarded. It might bear a second read, maybe even a third.
Reviewed by Kate Ayers on January 23, 2011