Little, Brown & Co., 2005 (1973)
Reviewed by Hilary Williamson
his slim novel is set in 1952 Brooklyn at Christmastime. Its seventeen-year-old protagonist is a sailor, on leave for the holidays, before being shipped to Korea. He has unfinished business to sort out, with his girlfriend Kathleen and with his '
' father. The former has sent an '
ambiguous and fearful
' letter, while he feels a strong need to connect with the father, whom he loves but '
just never knew if he loved me back.
amill writes lyrically of his hero's homesickness for New York, whose '
subways were a part of home to me, and I loved the sense of penetration they gave me, the roaring, jamming slide into the blackness of the tunnels ... I loved the charging rhythm of the train, its sense of plunge and blur, its violent race to Brooklyn.
' His family is poor, his one-legged, ex-Sinn Fein father hanging out at Rattigan's bar across the street from their small apartment, there singing Irish songs late into the night, '
the sad, gay song of a man I did not know.
athleen is with someone else, Pete meets another '
bright, smiling girl
', connects with old acquaintances in bars, attends a party. He
'retreated into the city, walking the streets, holing up in movie houses and bookstores
'. He decorates a tree of sorts with his younger siblings, and finds money to help his mother. Then Pete heads to Rattigan's, to see his father '
in that place where he truly lived ... the place where he boasted and lied and laughed, and was forgiven everything.
' His father sings. Pete crosses the divide of culture and years to join him, and wins his approval.
is a beautiful story, wonderfully written, and full of nostalgia for a childhood of comic books, adventure stories, Audrey Hepburn movies, and a Christmas season poor in material things, but rich in community and caring. Hamill portrays a young man digging into his roots and assuring their strength, before he heads off to war and independent adult life. It's a quick, heartwarming read, perfect for the season.
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