Sunday, April 21, 2013

Firefly Summer

1988, 1989 Dell edition
Maeve Binchy
Firefly Summer
Original price $6.99, purchase price 99 cents
Very worn paperback

This is Binchy's best and longest so far, although the title is more misleading than Echoes.  It actually covers four years, with only the last summer (1966) as the one with any fireflies, and that's because Dara Ryan finally sees them (in France) after hearing about them from American Kerry O'Neill.  Kerry's father Patrick is a wealthy American whose impoverished father left Mountfern forty years ago, shortly before the local estate was burned down.  This was 1922 and the Irish were achieving their independence from the English (and the Anglo-Irish, like the Fern family).  Patrick wants to rebuild the estate as a hotel, while also finding his roots in the area, although no one remembers his family.

This story is mostly about the intertwined lives of the Ryan and O'Neill families.  Patrick's proposed hotel threatens the livelihood of the Ryans' pub.  Kate Ryan, Dara's energetic and forthright mother, doesn't notice signs on the construction site and is hit by a bulldozer, breaking her spine.  Less tragic but still dramatic, Patrick's vain but charming children (not just criminal Kerry but "good girl" Grace) break the hearts of Dara and her twin Michael.

Since this is Binchy, we do get a whole cast of villagers and outsiders, most notably Fergus the lawyer with the unobtrusive crush on Kate; and puppyish Maggie, whose death made me cry.  The characters are much realer in this book than usual for Binchy, although still a bit off, noticeably the Americans.  (Kerry never seems American or in his late teens.  And why do the O'Neills use a phrase like "mark your card," as in "tip you off"?)  I noticed that some reviewers on Amazon and elsewhere are bothered by the ending, but honestly, compared to Light a Penny Candle, it feels plausible and unrushed, even if there is a sense that it could've gone on to the next summer.  (Kate, her husband, and her doctor may not be worried about her pregnancy, but I am.)  Still, I think it's to Binchy's credit that we want to keep going a bit further.

As for the title, Dara learns that fireflies are too exotic for the Irish climate, suggesting that not only the O'Neills but Patrick's glamorous girlfriend, a divorced Jew, can't thrive there.  I don't think Binchy is entirely xenophobic-- the novel is more complex than that-- but there is a thread of cosy/nosy/local vs. exotic/threatening/foreign running throughout.

This edition has a "preview" of Silver Wedding, which I don't own, so the next Binchy will be the Very Famous Circle of Friends in 1990....

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