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Home Stretch


Home Stretch

If you are a fan of BBC America, you probably are aware of the terrific talk show, “The Graham Norton Show.” However, if you browse the shelves at your favorite local bookstore or library, you might not make the connection between its host and this novel. In fact, you most likely would be surprised to know that Norton has written not only a successful nonfiction book, SO ME, but two great mystery stories in the vein of Dame Agatha Christie: HOLDING and A KEEPER.

It stands to reason that this extremely witty and charming personality might have other talents of which we are not aware. Thankfully, one of those is the ability to write --- and to write very well. This time, though, Norton has created a work that is completely different from his previous literary efforts and may find him placed side-by-side on those very same bookshelves with authors of “serious” fiction. That is how impressed I am with his latest novel.

"HOME STRETCH demands to be read quickly and savored. It is a heartfelt tale of love, loss, secrets and the strength that is necessary to live your best life."

HOME STRETCH is based in Norton’s home country of Ireland and is rich with complex characters and situations that will pull at your heartstrings and find you pulling for the protagonist. Connor Hayes is a young man who is about to embark on a leap of faith in response to tragic circumstances that has made the small Irish community in which he grew up a place that is now so full of bad memories that he is forced to seek self-imposed asylum. We know how impossible a task that is, and to quote the American literary philosopher known to us as Uncle Remus, “You can’t run away from your troubles, ain’t no place that far.”

In 1987, Mullinmore is rocked by a tragedy that was preventable. Young lovers David and Bernie get into a car with other members of their bridal party for one last night of revelry before their wedding the following day. Of the six people in the vehicle, only three will come home alive, one of whom will be crippled for life. A bit of rain, some alcohol and the treacherous turn known to locals as Barry’s roundabout make for a lethal combination.

Both the bride and groom are killed, and tragically we learn that Connor, the youngest among them, was the one at the wheel. He quickly becomes a pariah in the village, and the ramifications of his actions will also fall upon his parents, Dan and Chrissie, who run a local pub, as well as his younger sister, Ellen, who is still in high school. There is much healing to be done in Mullinmore, which includes Connor not being welcomed at any of the ensuing wakes or funerals. The Hayes family soon arrives at the unpopular decision to send Connor away for a while, which is secretly good for Ellen, who feels that his absence may finally lift the blight that has fallen upon them.

Connor is sent to Liverpool where his father has secured work for him and a place to stay.  Unfortunately, the role he played in the accident is not the only secret he is trying to keep from his new Liverpool colleagues. Even though he loves not having to buy Christmas gifts for his family this year, Connor is in need of company, which he finds in the arms of a man. His brief public tryst with Matt is witnessed by one of his new housemates, Robbo, who delivers a blow to the side of his head. This brute then proceeds to call Connor names while tossing him out of the house with a small bag of belongings.

Connor’s family is not aware of his sexuality, and he is not about to tell them how or why he was ejected from Liverpool. So he ventures off to New York to start a new life. Meanwhile, Connor’s loved ones are heartsick over his unexpected disappearance and pray that they hear from him soon. It will be almost 16 years before they see him again. Ultimately, the truth of what actually happened the night of the accident will come to light, as well as another revelation that will really pull the rug out from under you.

HOME STRETCH demands to be read quickly and savored. It is a heartfelt tale of love, loss, secrets and the strength that is necessary to live your best life. As I finished the book, I kept wondering if any part of it was autobiographical. Norton does thank all the people who stayed in Ireland to fight for the modern, tolerant country it has become while he chose to take the easy way out by leaving to find places where he could be himself. He may need to dust off space on the awards shelf next to his eight BAFTAs to make room for the well-deserved accolades he should receive for this wonderful novel.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on July 2, 2021

Home Stretch
by Graham Norton

  • Publication Date: June 14, 2022
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: HarperVia
  • ISBN-10: 0063112108
  • ISBN-13: 9780063112100