by Martin Golan
TITLE: IRISH ICE - An Engaging Ride on the Road to Redemption
This is a review of W. Brian Perry's excellent novel, Irish Ice, with special attention to his presentation of Irish themes.
REVIEW: On the first page of Irish Ice we meet Justin Patrick Flynn, tired, troubled, and very, very drunk. We tag along with him for the next 300 pages as he embarks on a chaotic journey with enough sensual glee and existential angst to make Leopold Bloom look like a couch potato.
One thinks of Leopold Bloom, the great wanderer, outcast, and cuckold of James Joyce's Ulysses, because the opening of this engaging first novel by W. Brian Perry echoes the opening of Joyce's masterpiece: two friends intoning Catholic ritual-influenced cadences as one struggles to awake and go, Justin to a husband-wife union with a woman named Manda, Stephen Dedalus to a father-son union with Leopold Bloom.
Along the path with Justin we meet a slew of colorful characters – the book is crowded with them – who take us through the twists and turns of romance, the secrets of eccentric families, the history of unhappy nations, the cloistered world of a confessional, the recesses of a rectory, the maneuverings at a retreat (of advertisers, a different though equally devout religion), and into the past, where more family secrets are revealed.
As a backdrop lies New York City in all its glittering diversity, even up into the Catskills, by bus, car, taxi and lots and lots of subways, a stopover for a dinner with a volatile Mediterranean family and to an ethnic bar in the Bronx, followed by an Irish wake where stories are told and songs are sung (lots of stories are told and songs sung in Irish Ice) and vast quantities of alcohol are consumed (as much singing and story-telling as there is, there's more drinking, often simultaneously and with even more gusto).
Oh, I left out the fist fight at Justin's wedding, where the bride's ex-lover is a guest!
Like fellow Irish writer Joyce, Perry constructs, beneath the drinking and carousing and nearly nonstop sexual high jinks, the symbolic underpinnings of love and hope and the search for faith and family in a godless, modern world.
The "ice" theme is sounded time and again, like a bagpipe's bellow, along with the themes from Catholic liturgy such as fire and blood; it was Joyce himself who famously declared, "Once a Catholic always a Catholic," and Justin Flynn is always a Catholic, regardless of how irreligious he may act or think he feels. One might say that all of Irish Ice is the story of a man coming to grips with who he is, acknowledging the fact that he was once Irish and Catholic and will always be a Irish and Catholic. (The second line of Irish Ice is Justin's best friend O'Reilly intoning, "Arise and walk … Your sins are forgiven!" – but Justin is a long way from arising, or from walking, in any sense of the word, and an even longer way from forgiveness.)
Irish Ice is infused with Catholic ritual and Irish tradition. Among its other treats, the book offers a glimpse into an Irish Catholic milieu that was fascinating to this non-Irish, non-Catholic reader. It is, finally, a deeply religious book, the same way its protagonist, Justin Flynn, is a deeply religious man; neither on the surface shows it much. Justin goes from sinner to saint – well, maybe not to saint, but at least to a good guy who will try to do what's right. He even turns down a drink.
He's obviously not the same Justin we met 300 pages ago. And neither will anyone be who accompanies him on his roundabout road to redemption.
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Review by: Martin Golan
Published by: Capital Celtic Network
Year Written: 2001