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The Connellys of County Down


The Connellys of County Down

Tracey Lange, author of the New York Times bestseller WE ARE THE BRENNANS, introduces a new dysfunctional Irish American family to the world with the publication of THE CONNELLYS OF COUNTY DOWN.

Born to a sickly Irish mother and a career criminal American father, the Connellys have only ever relied on one thing: each other. As children set on survival mode, their dynamic was a positive one, with motherly Geraldine shielding her siblings from the realities of their parents’ lifestyles, peacemaker Eddie soothing any tensions between his sisters, and strong-willed Tara pushing her siblings to do whatever is necessary not just to survive but to live. But since their mother’s death and their father’s abrupt departure, their dynamic has morphed and become stifling, if not downright toxic. And that was before Tara went to jail.

"In her sophomore release, Lange kicks up the dysfunction and amplifies the heart, crafting a story of love and loyalty that solidifies her presence in the world of contemporary literature."

For the last 18 months, Tara has resided in a women’s prison following her arrest for trafficking opioids across state lines for her boyfriend, a popular dealer. An art teacher whose own talents were perfectly matched by her comfort and ease with her students, Tara is not the typical jailbird, and it’s no secret to her that she will never again return to the promise and potential of her previous life. Still, with the generous $100 a month in commissary deposits from her siblings, she has managed to find positivity in prison, drawing portraits of newborns for their imprisoned mothers and sending superhero-themed original comics to her nephew and her cellmate’s daughter.

Withdrawing into her art also has allowed Tara to ignore the pain of her siblings’ visits, which, despite their proximity to the prison, have dwindled to almost nothing. The rift in their relationship seems formative, which is never more obvious than when her sister fails to show up on the day she is finally released.

However, Tara does see a familiar face at the prison’s gates: Brian Nolan, the detective who arrested her and --- without anyone’s knowledge --- gave her a tip that saved her a lengthy prison sentence. Understandably terrified by the presence of police, Tara is shocked when Brian offers her an apology. He admits that her arrest was unnecessary and that the police were merely trying to trap her drug-dealing boyfriend when she got caught in the crosshairs. What he doesn’t understand, though, is how a strong-willed, stubborn woman with so much to live for would refuse to turn over her lowlife boyfriend, or how she ended up with him in the first place. It seems that while Tara has been away thinking of her family, Brian has been thinking of her.

Tara’s reentry into civilian and family life is rocky, to say the least. First, she learns that her siblings have not quite supported her the way she believed. Geraldine has become even stricter and more overbearing in her absence, and she has taken over Tara’s room, forcing her into a cramped attic room with as much personality as a jail cell. Eddie, plagued by traumatic brain injury symptoms stemming from a childhood accident, seems to have receded into himself, demoting himself at work and not taking care of his body.

Tara’s nephew is a shining light in her life, but being on parole is almost harder than being in prison: businesses refuse to hire her, her parole dictates that she must work, and frequent drug tests not only humiliate her but condemn her to a strict schedule. All the while, she must contend with the fact that as long as drugs exist in her small Westchester town, she always will be viewed as a criminal. Fortunately, she finds work with two young men whose video game streams recently have gone viral, prompting them to consider better brand marketing and promotional materials. But even her new career path cannot distract her from the simple fact that Brian keeps turning up everywhere she goes. Despite their unusual way of meeting, she feels unnaturally drawn to him.

As Tara’s family life crumbles under the weight of her siblings’ coping mechanisms and the wrench her return has thrown into the house of cards of their life, Brian’s partner --- tired of cleaning up one overdose after another --- sets his sights on Tara, hell-bent on taking her down in an attempt to finally catch her ex-boyfriend. But as the investigation tightens around the Connelly family, the secrets behind not only Tara’s arrest but also the Connellys’ upbringing, her siblings’ vices and even Brian’s intentions are revealed, each more devastating, life-changing and priority-questioning than the last. In the fairy tales their mother told them as children, the Connellys of County Down were sword-fighting adventurers who battle magical foes to track down their family castle. But the Connellys of Port Chester, New York, are about to find out just how magical their own bond really is.

In her sophomore release, Lange kicks up the dysfunction and amplifies the heart, crafting a story of love and loyalty that solidifies her presence in the world of contemporary literature. The Connellys are everything readers want from a tightly written family fiction like this: achingly flawed, unbreakably bound to one another, and full of the kind of love that most people only dream of. As characters populating the formerly wealthy but now rundown community of Port Chester, they not only break and come together in moving, revealing ways, but also highlight the damaging effects of poverty and gentrification and the plight of working-class life.

However, the book is not all gloom and doom. The romance between Tara and Brian provides some much-needed levity while never coming off as a disproportionate power balance or sickeningly sweet fantasy. Like the Connellys, Brian is a flawed, well-meaning and error-prone character who readers will identify with and root for, and his frequent self-checks on topics like prejudice, consent and judgment will endear him to audiences instantly.

Compassionate and insightful, moving and raw, THE CONNELLYS OF COUNTY DOWN is proof that Tracey Lange is here to stay and keeps getting better with every book. This emotionally charged novel is perfect for readers of Mary Beth Keane, Emma Straub and Ethan Joella.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on August 11, 2023

The Connellys of County Down
by Tracey Lange

  • Publication Date: August 1, 2023
  • Genres: Fiction, Women's Fiction
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Celadon Books
  • ISBN-10: 1250865379
  • ISBN-13: 9781250865373