'The Visitors': An exploration of love, Emerald Island style


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Patrick O’Keeffe’s first full-length novel, “The Visitors,” is the story of two contemporary Irish immigrants. Graduate student Jimmy Dwyer and real estate investor Kevin Lyons were never friends, but their families were linked by the friendship between their two fathers in rural Ireland.

All four men’s lives were intertwined by friendship and their love of the sisters and daughters of the two patriarchs. Jimmy lives without direction. He drinks and gets high, works in a bakery, slides by in his studies, and engages in relationships that are empty when compared to the torch he still carries for Kevin’s younger sister, Una.


"THE VISITORS"
By Patrick O'Keefe
Viking Adult ($26.95).

Jimmy connected with Una in Dublin when they were working at their first jobs as teenagers. She later throws him over for an English neighbor who lives in her apartment building.

Kevin’s first love is Jimmy’s younger sister, Tess. Tess is brought to swift discipline after a humiliating encounter with Kevin, who has a reputation as an undisciplined bully. Kevin immigrates to Boston, where he prospers. He offers young Jimmy a job when Jimmy immigrates. However, Jimmy had been the butt of the older Kevin’s humiliation at school. Jimmy’s lack of respect for Kevin persuades him to go out on his own.

The book opens with the arrival of Walter, a vagrant, who shows up at Jimmy’s screen door. Jimmy befriends the vagrant but doesn’t trust him. He is surprised when Walter tells him that Kevin sent him to encourage Jimmy to visit Kevin at his home in the Hudson Valley.

Jimmy is the storyteller. His recollections of home speak of a tough life: strict parents, milking cows before and after school, Kevin bullying him on the upper deck of the bus as they traveled to school as teenagers, dropping out of school to get a job as a barback in a Dublin pub at the age of 16.

He also recalls the rugged beauty of the land he was raised in, the love of his now dead mother, the blue paint in the hallway of his parents’ cottage, the affection between him and his sister Tess. He also recalls journals kept on a shelf in a shed behind the Lyons’ cottage. While his father and best friend Michael Lyon visited, Jimmy pulled down a journal but was abruptly stopped by Michael.

Each detail lends itself to a connection in the lives of both Jimmy and Kevin. In economically challenged Ireland, both families struggle with lack and with shame. Children relocate to England, Berlin, America and Australia simply to work and to send a portion home to the family. Work is back breaking: digging wells, milking cows, rebuilding stone walls.

Jimmy remakes his life in America after his heartbreak with Una but is still unsuccessful in love. Kevin finds love and lust but is still unstable in his relationships. Jimmy refuses to travel to New York to see Kevin but then changes his mind after the drug death of Kevin’s younger brother Seamus and at the urging of his sister Tess. When the two men finally meet again, the story comes together.

Patrick O’Keeffe emigrated from County Limerick himself and is now a professor of creative writing at Ohio University. The poetry of his descriptions of life in Ireland before the economic boon is the kind of picturesque storytelling that Irish Americans love to read. (Isn’t our Ireland really “The Quiet Man” with rugged John Wayne and beautiful Maureen O’Hara?)

Mr. O’Keeffe tempers that poetry with the grit of hard work, marriages that are never to be broken and true love that will never be fulfilled. Dreams fade into the realities of economic survival. Pursuing a dream may involve sacrificing relationships with those whom you’ve loved all your life. Secrets revealed may help heal or may ultimately hurt.

Mr. O’Keeffe’s novel is not an easy read. As Jimmy makes his way in life, anecdotes blend together and change from first to second person. Dialogue can be difficult to follow, and missing details are left for the reader to fill in. In the end, the story pulls together, and the reader, like Jimmy, finally gets it.

Lorinda Hayes is a freelance writer: klmnrhayes@yahoo.com.


Lorinda Hayes is a freelance writer: klmnrhayes@yahoo.com.

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