Stolen Child: A Good, True Story

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by Ed Davis on January 3, 2014

“[Uncle Red] said that the Drumkeary ghost kept an eye out for our people. When I’d asked…if that story was true, he’d only asked me if I thought it was a good story.
‘Heck yeah. It is one of the best stories I ever heard. The ghost was her great grandfather and saved her life because she belonged to his family.’
He’d said, ‘Well, Lucy, did you know a good story is always a true one? In fact, the better it is, the truer it becomes.’”

Lucy’s Dilemma

I couldn’t agree more with Uncle Red’s sentiment above expressed in Suzanne Kelly’s newly-published Stolen Child. It’s an old-fashioned novel that, in the parlance of simpler times, “stole my heart”—a novel about an anxious, imaginative nine-year-old Irish-American girl dealing with serious issues in the summer of 1960 when the young, dashing Irish Catholic John Kennedy was running for president.  It’s also the summer Lucy’s mother is hospitalized for a terrible, unnamed illness and the child is uprooted to live with her relentlessly-religious and strict paternal grandmother. A summer of transformation.

Two Worlds

Opposed to the world of Death Valley Days on TV, Love Me Tender at the movies, and Bill Haley and the Comets on the radio, Grandma Fahey slowly introduces Lucy to the invisible but nonetheless real world of faeries and Sorrowful and Joyful Mysteries during daily mass. JFK even makes a cameo appearance in the book, making a speech at a parochial school in Kansas City. However, delightful as it is, it’s not my favorite chapter in a book rife with moving, funny scenes set in homes of Irish immigrants either bent on assimilation, like Lucy’s Grandma Fahey, or forever lost, like Lucy’s Uncle Red, in the Ireland of history, poetry, and imagination.

Heart and Hearth

Full disclosure:  I first heard this novel read in draft form in a writing group that met, years ago, in one of the members’ Oakwood home. So I know for a fact Suzanne has lived these characters’ lives for a long time, tending their stories with great care. My writing friend Nancy Pinard would call Stolen Child a “heart novel,” meaning, I think, one that touches close on the author’s experience, probably but not necessarily autobiographical. I’ll call it a “hearth novel,” for the intimate way in which I’ve received the book for the past decade: first, delivered in Suzanne’s understated brogue on those pleasant evenings; then, more recently, in a cabin in the Hocking Hills between Christmas and New Year this year.

The Terrible and True

There’s nothing better than being alone with your best friend (in this case my spouse) who loves a good story told in poetic language in a sacred place where there’s no cell phone service, no computers, and no creatures except trees beyond the window to witness and absorb our laughter and tears.

Since we’d been reading the novel for several weeks in snatches before bedtime, I was well aware, based on my memory of those pleasant evenings in Oakwood, that the best was yet to come. As important as the early scenes between Lucy and her strict grandmother are, I anticipated the even tastier ones that came later, in which Grandma Fahey’s suppressed Irishness emerges at last. In which the Tribe’s most terrible (and true) tales are finally told. In which Lucy’s soul is altered forever.

Labor of Love

Tempted as I am to tantalize you further with snippets of scenes, I won’t, reserving them for you to find yourself. Instead, I’ll urge you to create your own inner Hocking Hills in which to lose yourself to the multiple pleasures of this Dickensian novel, replete with eccentric, lovable (and loving) characters as well-wrought as any I’ve read in years.

Suzanne’s been working on this book for twenty years and perhaps much longer; as such, it’s a grand opus, and while I hope there are many books to follow, it stands as a worthy testament to one writer’s devotion to her people; to the beauties of language, culture, heritage and history; and to her own story, true and well-crafted as a pint of Guinness stout.

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