Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Review of FULCRUM, an Irish-American Novel

Dan Flaherty is a well-rounded writer who tackles a variety of non-fiction topics—everything from Notre Dame sports to online dating.  In fact, the whole reason I became acquainted with Dan in the first place is that he interviewed and then wrote Catholic Match blog articles about two of my sons (out of the three!) who met their spouses on the dating site.  If you’re interested, you can read Dan’s articles about these two sons and their wives, here and here.
Fulcrum, an Irish-American Novel, an epic story of post-WWII Irish-Catholic Boston, is Flaherty’s debut work of fiction.   Published in 2007 and available at Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats, this book is a treat for any reader who’s a history buff, a sports nut, or a descendent of Irish immigrants.  It is especially wonderful for any proud, loyal Catholic who longs to see his Faith celebrated in print rather than denigrated and scorned, as it so often is these days. Flaherty weaves many of the Church’s teachings, tenets, and traditions into his engaging tale, as well as stories about the saints, so that a reader whose faith formation has been lacking will come away with a deeper understanding of what it means to be truly Catholic.  His love for and knowledge of the Faith is obvious.  And most movingly, the author’s deep devotion to the Blessed Mother—a trait shared by many of the Irish-Catholic characters who populate the book’s fictional Boston neighborhood known as “Shamrock” (modeled after “Southie,” for you Beantown insiders)—is ever-present.  It is Mary, the Mediatrix, who gives strength to Flaherty’s struggling characters, holding them together like the metal links between the beads of a rosary.

This ambitious work of historical fiction evokes an era when families were big, Mass attendance was high, and religious vocations were flourishing in neighborhoods like Shamrock.  When daily Rosaries were the norm for faithful Catholics.  When a young man who was striving to live chastely turned to a trusted priest for help in fighting the temptations of the flesh.  When there were countless holy and hard-working parish priests, like Flaherty’s Father MacMahon, and they provided excellent role models for young men who were often inspired by them to discern whether or not they, too, had a calling to religious life.

Fulcrum drew me right in on page 5, when I started reading this poignant passage about Annie Cavanaugh, Irish widow and mother of four: “Her heart was pierced and she felt closer identity with the suffering Mother of Christ as she tried to work through her thoughts and contemplate the raw horror of Calvary…Annie genuflected in front of the tabernacle and walked out into the bright sunlight ready to face the rest of her life as a widow.  Our Lady endured for Him all the way to the end, she thought.  She’ll endure for me too.”
Of another devout woman, Flaherty writes: “Mary was a widow and another product of the 1920s immigration.  Her husband Seamus was a longshoreman who drank much too heavily and died when Danny, their only son, was just five years old.  Mary never spoke ill of her deceased husband and she knew that whatever his failings he had loved her and their son.  This kindly woman often appealed to the Sacred Heart of Jesus for mercy on his soul.”

Oh wow, does my soul cry out for writing such as this—all wrapped up in a novel that includes a wholesome love story (between a pretty red-headed lass named Bridget, and Danny, an upstanding lad who is a Boston College football star), a hotly contested baseball season (Go Sox!  Boo Yankees!), a fierce political battle (between an old school-style mayor and a progressive challenger), and a large cast of Irish-Catholics (saints and sinners all) who can trace their roots right back to the Old Sod. The well-drawn characters have hurdles to overcome and difficult decisions to make, and their Catholic Faith is what guides them.
Female readers will enjoy Fulcrum for a number of reasons; for me personally, it was the tender rendering of the mother-child bond throughout the novel that was most touching.  Also, Flaherty’s writing reveals a great reverence for the true Catholic interpretation of feminism.   When her daughter Patty begins to rebel against tradition and gets involved in a far-left women’s rights group that embraces anti-Catholic practices like contraception and abortion, Annie Cavanaugh is concerned: “The widow…knew that feminine dignity was found in the Woman, whom she prayed to every day on the rosary beads.  The now wrinkle-faced girl from Cork didn’t have the education to lay this all out in precise terms—that was something she hoped her kids would be able to do—but she knew it in her heart.”
Flaherty’s novel is like one long prayer to "the Woman," with a capital W: the Blessed Mother.  It just doesn’t get any better than that, in this woman’s opinion.
But Fulcrum is very much a guys’ book as well, filled with a host of strong male characters and lots of detailed play-by-play football and baseball action. Male readers will be sure to love Brother Dougherty, the high school football coach; he helps to mold the boys’ souls through their Catechism curriculum—but also pushes them physically and drives them to excel on the gridiron.  (My husband often comments that this genre of priests—men who were typically the CYO coaches back in our youth—is harder to find nowadays; which is too bad, because such mentors show would-be seminarians that men of the cloth can be young, approachable, masculine, and fun, and at the same time holy.)
My only beef with Fulcrum is that there are some unusual punctuation choices (mostly regarding quotation marks and commas) that I found somewhat distracting at first, along with other typos.  But as my publisher once reminded me, when I was obsessing over every little nit-picky error during the editing of my first book, there is no such thing as perfection in the printed word.   Editing issues aside, Flaherty’s writing is quite powerful—especially when he talks about matters of faith in general, and about Mary, the Mother of God in particular.  Fulcrum, an Irish-American Novel is a compelling tale by a writer whom I consider a friend (although we’ve never met in person!), a nice thick book you can curl up with and really sink your teeth into.
Bravo, Dan Flaherty.  Or as Our Lord would likely say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

No comments:

Post a Comment