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We Are the Brennans


We Are the Brennans

Debut author Tracey Lange explores generations of a tight-knit Irish Catholic family in WE ARE THE BRENNANS, a profound novel about the power of loyalty and the burden of shame.

Twenty-nine-year-old Sunday Brennan has not seen her family in five years, ever since she abruptly left her childhood home in New York, along with her beloved brothers, ailing father and supportive boyfriend for a chance at writing in Los Angeles. But when Sunday wakes up in a hospital, bruised and battered following a drunk driving incident, and sees her oldest brother, Denny, at her side, she knows that it is time to come home. Contrary to popular belief, Sunday has not been living an L.A. dream life of money and men, but instead is slumming it in a small studio apartment and working at a diner to make ends meet. Denny is shocked to see that Sunday would choose this life over the bustling home the Brennans share in New York, but no one is more surprised than Sunday to see just how far the Brennans have fallen.

"Although Sunday is our entry point into the Brennan home, Lange does a remarkable job of settling us right into the family dynamic and all the checks and balances that come with it."

Back home in West Manor, an upper middle-class suburb 30 miles north of Manhattan, the Brennans have done their best to stay together and afloat, despite weathering many of life’s setbacks. The matriarch of the family, Maura, passed away years ago, leaving a grieving husband, Mickey, to keep an eye on their children. Denny runs a popular and highly rated pub with his best friend --- and Sunday’s high school sweetheart --- Kale Collins; Jackie helps out with pub shifts and paints; and sweet Shane, the intellectually disabled youngest brother, works at a grocery store and follows the Yankees with a near-religious fervor.

But the careful balance of the Brennan household has started to slip in the years since Sunday left. Mickey is starting to show signs of dementia; Jackie has been arrested for possession, necessitating a costly lawyer; Denny’s wife, Theresa, has left him and taken their four-year-old daughter, Molly, with her; and although Denny and Kale are branching out with a new location, numerous setbacks have put them firmly in the red with their bills.

While the Brennans are ecstatic to see Sunday again, it is clear that she left a million questions in her wake when she fled west. But more than that, she has discovered a quiet, simmering anger and need for independence within herself. For years she acted as a second mother to her brothers, nurturing Shane when their proud mother couldn’t, settling disputes between Denny and Jackie, and even caring for their mother when cancer reared its ugly head. Now that she is back and her brothers have nurtured their own resentments, she is not interested in quietly bowing her head and begging for forgiveness. Even though she has not been around to help the family deal with Mickey’s forgetfulness and Shane’s tightly coordinated schedule, the Brennans do not know that she once paid the ultimate price for their family, and that her journey to California was not just a bratty girl running away, but a broken woman running from.

Alternating between Sunday, Denny, Kale, Jackie, Mickey and even Kale’s wife, Vivienne, Lange examines what really happened to the Brennan family five years ago and decades before, uncovering a slew of family secrets, concealed tragedies and hidden pain. We find out that Denny and Kale’s pub is in very real danger of going under, and that Denny has made terrible mistakes when it comes to handling his money, the pub’s money and even the Brennan family money. At the same time, we learn about the intense bond between Irish twins Jackie and Sunday and the ways that they covered for one another when the world came for them. Simmering in the background is the mysterious history of their patriarch, Mickey, a proud, family-oriented man with a dark past in Ireland during the Troubles, when the IRA held sway over the lives and futures of too many young men and women.

WE ARE THE BRENNANS is a classic story of family dysfunction and secrecy. It would have been much shorter if only the Brennan children and their father could talk to one another and not assume, protect or mislead. But far from being a predictable tale of miscommunication, it is a tautly plotted and keenly emotional novel that reads as naturally as attending one’s own family dinner. Although Sunday is our entry point into the Brennan home, Lange does a remarkable job of settling us right into the family dynamic and all the checks and balances that come with it. She has a unique ability to distill complicated family situations into brief but poignant phrases. On Maura’s inability to praise Sunday, Lange writes, “[H]e believed she was jealous of Sunday…. Why else would a parent steal one child’s moment and hand it to another”; and on Shane’s increasingly frequent outbursts as the family crumbles, “Shane had always been the family barometer.”

But the true power of this terrific novel comes when the Brennans finally begin to unpack years of secrecy and do what they were brought into creation to do: love one another, have the “come-to-Jesus” hard conversations and save one another from ruin. At once an incisive takedown of shame and a testament to the powers of loyalty and redemption, WE ARE THE BRENNANS is a deeply satisfying and perfectly layered novel for fans of Mary Beth Keane's ASK AGAIN, YES and Cara Wall's THE DEARLY BELOVED.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on August 20, 2021

We Are the Brennans
by Tracey Lange

  • Publication Date: June 14, 2022
  • Genres: Fiction, Women's Fiction
  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Celadon Books
  • ISBN-10: 1250796210
  • ISBN-13: 9781250796219