Apologize, Apologize!

( 44 )

Overview

Apologize, Apologize! takes us into the perversely charmed world of the Flanagans and their son, Collie (His parents named him after their favorite breed of dog.) Collie comes of age on Martha's Vineyard, trying to make sense of his wildly wealthy, hyper-articulate, resolutely crazy family members: a philandering father, incorrigible brother, pigeon-racing uncle, radical activist mother, and a domineering media mogul grandfather (accused of being a murderer by Collie's mother). As Collie searches for his place in...

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Overview

Apologize, Apologize! takes us into the perversely charmed world of the Flanagans and their son, Collie (His parents named him after their favorite breed of dog.) Collie comes of age on Martha's Vineyard, trying to make sense of his wildly wealthy, hyper-articulate, resolutely crazy family members: a philandering father, incorrigible brother, pigeon-racing uncle, radical activist mother, and a domineering media mogul grandfather (accused of being a murderer by Collie's mother). As Collie searches for his place in the world, he suffers insurmountable loss and grapples for bravery as he struggles to cope with people he has no choice but to love. Elizabeth Kelly's first novel is brilliantly written and utterly unpredictable - a remarkable debut.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
This richly eccentric, beautifully written novel marks the debut effort of Canadian novelist Elizabeth Kelly. Her first fiction centers itself around young Martha's Vineyard native Collie Flanagan, whose native helplessness is perhaps signaled by his name, a token of his parents' favorite dog breed. Collie's parents are a classic mismatch; a philandering, alcoholic father and a cantankerous, perhaps slightly unbalanced mother. Other family members seem almost equally dysfunctional. In this complex stew, Collie somehow maintains his equilibrium after a rapid-fire succession of tragedies leaves him sputtering, almost unhinged. Apologize, Apologize! tracks an unconventional character in an unconventional, unforgettable way.
Daryl Roth
"A warm and wonderful tale with smart, sassy, yet gentle sensitivity. Elizabeth Kelly writes with an original rhythmic style that ushers us in as we turn the first page of this magnificent story of family ties, devotion, understanding and acceptance. I loved this book!"
Mark Winegardner
"In this unflinching and funny debut, Elizabeth Kelly deftly paints her tale in alternating shades of lush whimsy and hard-won ferocity. Apologize, Apologize! reads as if Padgett Powell's Edisto had a first cousin from New England who was wealthier, more eccentric, more gothic and more drunk."
David Gilmour
"An imaginative and energetic triumph. What you hear from the onset of Apologize, Apologize! is the delicious sound of a gifted novelist taking flight for the first time. Even sitting on a table with its covers closed, Elizabeth Kelly's novel seems to buck and heave with its deliriously talkative and unforgivingly articulate characters. (Think of Dostoevsky on laughing gas.)"
Elizabeth Frank
" By the age of twenty, Collie Flanagan, the protagonist of Elizabeth Kelly's splendid first novel, Apologize, Apologize!, has been tested by fate to the limit. The startling and painful wit of Collie's voice makes Holden Caulfield sound like a kindergartner, and lays waste to the acres of banalities and clichés that usually accompany stories about redemption. Rich with moral nuance and narrative surprise, this is a book as delightful as it is moving -in short, a magnificent debut. Ms. Kelly is a big talent and the book is deeply humane and subtle as well as wildly funny ."
From the Publisher
"An imaginative and energetic triumph. What you hear from the onset of Apologize, Apologize! is the delicious sound of a gifted novelist taking flight for the first time. Even sitting on a table with its covers closed, Elizabeth Kelly's novel seems to buck and heave with its deliriously talkative and unforgivingly articulate characters. (Think of Dostoevsky on laughing gas.)"—David Gilmour, author of THE FILM CLUB and A FINE NIGHT TO GO TO CHINA

"A warm and wonderful tale with smart, sassy, yet gentle sensitivity. Elizabeth Kelly writes with an original rhythmic style that ushers us in as we turn the first page of this magnificent story of family ties, devotion, understanding and acceptance. I loved this book!"—Daryl Roth

"In this unflinching and funny debut, Elizabeth Kelly deftly paints her tale in alternating shades of lush whimsy and hard-won ferocity. Apologize, Apologize! reads as if Padgett Powell's Edisto had a first cousin from New England who was wealthier, more eccentric, more gothic and more drunk."

Mark Winegardner, author of Crooked River Burning and The Godfather Returns

"Listen up, readers . . . Meet the Flanagans, a quasifunctional family that might give Jonathan Franzen pause . . . Kelly is a clever, witty wordsmith with a penchant for apt if over-the-top metaphors that are laugh-out-loud funny."—Booklist

" By the age of twenty, Collie Flanagan, the protagonist of Elizabeth Kelly's splendid first novel, Apologize, Apologize!, has been tested by fate to the limit. The startling and painful wit of Collie's voice makes Holden Caulfield sound like a kindergartner, and lays waste to the acres of banalities and clichés that usually accompany stories about redemption. Rich with moral nuance and narrative surprise, this is a book as delightful as it is moving -in short, a magnificent debut. Ms. Kelly is a big talent and the book is deeply humane and subtle as well as wildly funny ."—Elizabeth Frank, author of Cheat and Charmer and winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Louise Bogan: A Portrait.

Booklist
"Listen up, readers . . . Meet the Flanagans, a quasifunctional family that might give Jonathan Franzen pause . . . Kelly is a clever, witty wordsmith with a penchant for apt if over-the-top metaphors that are laugh-out-loud funny."
Ron Charles
As described in Kelly's deliciously witty prose, these are people you can't imagine living with, but can't resist reading about…[Apologize, Apologize! is] good enough to overcome its flaws and witty enough to make us want more from Kelly.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

Collie Flanagan's life is part Grey Gardens and part The Royal Tenenbaums in this beautifully written if unwieldy dramedy debut. Raised on Martha's Vineyard, Collie is the dull link in his flamboyant family: his adulterous, alcoholic father and cruelly pugnacious mother maintain a miserable relationship that overshadows even the overblown personalities of his pigeon-racing uncle and his prep-school failure brother. As storms of irresponsibility rage, Collie lives in quiet, stable success until a one-two punch of family tragedy leaves him reeling. Collie's relationship with his media magnate grandfather becomes contentious as Collie spins out of control and tries wildly different ways to make restitution and become a man. Kelly is a gifted writer (Collie's mother attacks with a "verbal pitchfork. Before the night was over, just about everyone in the place had sprung leaks, blood and champagne spurting from all those glamorous human fountains"), but her chops as a novelist aren't as refined: Collie is as pallid as the other characters are unbelievable, and though the crazed drama keeps the story moving, it's often incredible. Though hampered by these weaknesses, Collie's quest is worth reading for the elegant prose alone. (Mar.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal
Canadian journalist Kelly's debut novel introduces the boisterous, reckless Flanagan clan, consisting of young Collie Flanagan, his womanizing father, his unstable mother, his incorrigible brother, his pigeon-racing uncle, and his media-mogul grandfather, who supports the family financially. This rollicking, cinematic tale reaches its denouement with a double tragedy that brings the volume down a few notches. Narrator Jeff Woodman (Going Global) voices Collie, the story's wry narrator, capturing both his youth and his skepticism. Recommended. [Audio clip available through www.highbridgeaudio.com; the Twelve hc was recommended "for larger libraries that showcase new authors," LJ 9/1/08.—Ed.]—Carly Wiggins, Allen Cty. P.L., Fort Wayne, IN
Kirkus Reviews
Dave Eggers fans should enjoy Canadian journalist Kelly's rambunctious first novel about the guilt-ridden scion of a super-rich, eccentric Martha's Vineyard family. Collie Flanagan is the angst-ridden narrator of his family's history. Mom is Anais Flanagan, an eccentric, perhaps insane Marxist who despises her father Peregrine "The Falcon" Lowell, a WASP publishing baron. Dad is womanizing, alcoholic Charlie Flanagan. Rounding out the ramshackle household is Charlie's pigeon-raising brother Uncle Tom. Collie takes his mother's hatred in stride. She never lets him forget that his birth was the worst day of her life on two counts: his arrival on the same day Kennedy was shot, and his masculine sex. Collie's younger brother Bingo, meanwhile, is a beautiful feckless charmer, and Anais adores him. Early on Collie casually announces that Bingo died twice by the age of 19, setting up the reader's apprehension as Collie delivers a barrage of anecdotes showing the various nutty/drunken/wacky/irresponsible aspects of the Flanagan clan. There are the dogs everywhere, Mom's fixation with Rupert Brooke, the brawls, the meals of nothing but ice cream. After surviving an asthma attack as a child, Bingo becomes something of a terror, a prankster kicked out of multiple schools, but he's still his parents' delight while stolid Collie, a star at Andover and then Brown, becomes his austere grandfather's pet project. Collie gives painful examples of his lack of grit in contrast to wild misbehaving Bingo's personal courage. Then halfway through the novel comes the caving accident. Bingo drowns. Recognizing he couldn't have saved him, Collie, now 19, nevertheless blames himself. So does Anais, who slugs Colliehard enough to break his jaw before dropping dead in maternal grief. The novel becomes a story of Collie's redemption. Through a series of reinventions-student to playboy to idealist (taken captive in war-torn El Salvador) to doctor to pigeon racer-he learns the meaning of courage. As Collie says while Uncle Tom is telling one of his endless stories, "Here it comes-death by anecdote."Agent: Molly Friedrich/Friedrich Agency
The Barnes & Noble Review

In the story of the hyper-flawed Flanagans, whimsy and melodrama come crashing together. What might be frothy in lesser hands becomes, in those of Elizabeth Kelly, remarkably rich. Collie, named for the dog breed, is born into a family as wealthy as it is nuts, in a sprawling house on Martha's Vineyard. Nine months later, another son arrives, a charming rapscallion beloved by all. Rather than parent, their "professionally Irish" dad elevates drinking into high art, while their mom attempts to illustrate why her own imperious father deserves to be hated, complete with charts. Practical, with a predilection for self-awareness, poor Collie earns his mother's scorn (she calls him "good little comptroller") and his grandfather's admiration. Then an accident recalibrates the dynamics, and suddenly Collie's no longer just the family's straight man.

Since nobody could be harder on this young man than he is on himself, his struggles have a relatable poignancy even as the plot tends toward the outrageous. Nevertheless, Kelly's sparkling writing in Apologize, Apologize! keeps it all going: a character has "red hair shining like his personal sunset," someone else looks like "an effete fugitive from Wallis Simpson's id." Attempting a life lesson, in a speech worthy of a Wes Anderson movie, Collie's dad remarks, "[S]ometimes this I-slash-me business just gets you down." Who could disagree? Like her filmic counterpart, Kelly recognizes that beneath feigned simplicity, burnished irony, or even operatic antics often resides a wellspring of true feeling. This charismatic debut taps into it, and leaves it behind.

--Jessica Allen

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780446406154
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • Publication date: 3/30/2010
  • Pages: 330
  • Sales rank: 653,999
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Elizabeth Kelly is a magazine editor and award-winning journalist with several Canadian National Magazine Awards and nominations to her credit. Her writing has appeared in many prominent Canadian newspapers and magazines. Her column work was selected to appear in the 2003 edition of Writing Prose, Oxford Press.

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Read an Excerpt

I grew up on Martha’s Vineyard in a house as big and loud as a parade – the clamour resonated along the entire New England coastline. Calliope whistling, batons soaring, trumpets bleating, everything tapping and humming, orchestrated chaos, but we could afford it. My mother was rich, her father’s money falling from the sky like tickertape, gently suppressing the ordinary consequences of all that noise.

We lived up-island on several remote acres on the south shore of Chilmark. I’m still shaking the sand from my hair and scraping it off the soles of my feet, the sand from the beachfront filling every crack in the aging floorboards of our large, faded, shingle-and-clapboard captain’s house.

The private saltwater shorefront of Squibnocket Beach made up our front yard, rugged surf pounding away, monster waves obscuring the skyline. On turbulent days the surfers almost landed in our kitchen, my uncle Tom chasing them off, using epithets as his broom.

Tom was my father’s older brother. I’d call him the resident lunatic, but he faced tough competition for the title. Skirmishes abounded in our family, where arguments and opinions were as profuse as the tracks left by sandpipers along the shoreline.

A sparrow couldn’t fall from a tree without eliciting wildly divergent commentary from Ma and Pop and Uncle Tom, who made up the adult members of my immediate household. Looming in the distance, constant and reminding, was my maternal grandfather, Peregrine Lowell, a man of expansive wingspread we called the Falcon, who roosted at great heights, poised to fly in and finish off lesser birds in mid-plummet.

My younger brother, Bing, and I were raised with the dissonant soundtrack of their collective insurgency playing continuously in the background – not exactly a tune anyone could whistle.

Those fantastic Flanagans, they exist just outside the door leading to me, Technicolor characters in what seems like a separate cartoon-strip version of my life. Plain as a line drawing by comparison, I was the domestic equivalent of a moderate voice in a divided Ireland. According to Pop, my Flanagan blood – Catholic as Communion wine – was corrupted at the cellular level by an infusion of Protestant DNA courtesy the Lowells, my mother’s northern Anglo-Irish tribe.

Memories of home follow me wherever I go, chewing at my heels, panting for attention, as unyielding as all the dogs my mother accumulated over the years. Wet dog and the salty brio of surrounding sea air – my past hangs on in great olfactory waves, dragging its matted tail. That broke-down house and its thronging packs of dogs, it was like a re-enactment of the fall of Saigon just trying to get from the entranceway to the living room.

English mastiffs, Neapolitan mastiffs, Tibetan mastiffs – those guys will bray at the moon until your soul shakes – and Jesus, that goddamn bull terrier, Sykes. My mother presided over all of it like some sort of mad, curly-haired, Celtic fairy queen. Her operatic wants and rants, feral hatreds, and lavish affections clanged like a lighthouse bell.

My name is Collie Flanagan. Ma chose the name Collie after rediscovering the books of Albert Payson Terhune, the guy who wrote Lad: A Dog.

Pop swore she read him throughout the pregnancy, hoping to give birth to a puppy. During my baptism, a fight broke out at the altar when the priest objected to me being named after a breed of dog, saying there was no St. Collie, and Ma told him there damn well should be and Pop announced that maybe I’d be the first.

At Andover they called me Lassie. That was fun.

My mother always wanted a daughter. The day I was born, November 22, 1963, was otherwise known as the worst day in Ma’s life, the disappointing birth of a son coinciding with the death of her hero JFK. She commemorated her epic fury by building a bonfire on the beach and setting fire to Pop’s beloved record collection, the smiling faces of Jo Stafford and Perry Como melting onto the driftwood. She even threw in a can of Raid just to hear the sound of her own anger exploding over the skyline.

Nine months later, on August 3, she had another boy, named for an Irish setter, my brother, Bing, who, lucky for him, shared a birthday with her other idol, the British war poet Rupert Brooke. Even so, before she carried Bing into the house for the first time, she paused to rip out all the pink geraniums from the front window box. Ma, it must be said, had a gift for making even flowers tremble.

She was the only female, the requisite bitch, according to Uncle Tom; otherwise it was an inelegant masculine settlement – even the dogs were male, the toys pissing on pillows, the giants drooling thick ropes of testosterone.

It’s safe to say that my mother and my grandfather had a curious relationship. She loathed him, and he coolly financed her contempt. Sometimes I think he stuck around only in the hope of unlocking the secret of their estrangement. Hating her father was my mother’s life’s work and study, her daddy doctorate. She’d been accumulating data on him as far back as I could remember, research piled on chairs, in stacks of paper high as the dining room table.

There were charts and graphs pinned to the walls, filled with the grousing of ex-employees, former friends, and jealous business rivals. There were black-and-white photographs, secret testimonies, and endless lists of her personal grievances handwritten in red ink and block letters, a perverse tapestry smeared across the walls of her office, all in support of a roman à clef she claimed to be writing entitled The Bastard.

The protagonist, an enormously wealthy and powerful newspaper mogul, murders his wife and gets away with it. Then he devotes the rest of his life to destroying his daughter’s happiness.

My grandfather always assumed a wry and world-weary tone when referring to his only child. Whenever Ma’s name came up, I half expected him to ask for a last cigarette while waving off the blindfold. Ma raised us to believe that she was interesting, in the same way that Stalin’s family was no doubt encouraged to think of him as an eccentric. It took me a long time to realize that my mother was crazy, her baseless vendetta against the Falcon one of the ways she told us the true tale of all that churned around inside her.

Pop was a stray, a drinker, and a womanizer, professionally Irish, a guy of mixed pedigree that Ma plucked off the streets because she was mad for his hair colour, the same shade as a ruby red King Charles spaniel.

“There’s not much that money can’t buy,” she used to tell us. “I knew the moment I laid eyes on him, his hair glowing like the sun and the moon and the stars, that I’d give over my whole fortune for the privilege of waking up next to that glorious head each morning.”

Ma never sounded so in love as when she was waxing in the abstract.

The first time she saw him was late at night. Pop was drunk and dressed as Carmen Miranda, clinging to a street lamp for support, having come from a costume party. She was leaving a meeting of Marxist sympathizers. Ma collected Commies the way other women accumulate Tupperware.

Uncle Tom insisted that Pop married Ma on a dare. Said Pop was out on the town with the infamous Dolan brothers, otherwise known as “the Corrupters,” when he announced to everyone at the costume party that he’d marry the first woman to pass him on the street. Stumbling outside in his Carmen Miranda getup, barely able to stand, Pop looked up and there was Ma. Stretching out his hand, he offered her a banana from his headpiece and the spell was cast, according to Tom.

“Peachie ‘Pittsburgh’ McGrath almost beat her to the punch. What a wagon that one was – drawers the size of Cork. She’d just turned the corner and was lumbering up behind your mother. Charlie told me had it been Peach, he would have gone through with the ceremony to appease the Dolans and then killed himself right after. Married and buried on the same day.”

“Pop, is it true you married Ma on a dare?” I asked him, nine years old and starting to wonder about such things, staring down at my new running shoes from my spot on the stairs of the veranda. It was twilight, a summer night, deep in August; the beach was empty except for the ever-present purple martins darting in search of insects as the lap of the waves made a buttery soft sound.

“I married your mother because I loved her,” Pop said as if from a distance, not looking at me, but watching the water from where he sat still in a high-backed rocking chair, red hair shining like his personal sunset. For all of himself that he offered up – he was a torrent of words and emotions – I never felt as if I got to know Pop all that well.

I knew what he wanted to talk about, there was no shortage of topics, but I never really knew what to talk to him about.

Ma and Pop, despite their compulsive vividness, might as well have been partners in an accounting firm when it came to public demonstrations of affection. Bingo and I always knew, even when we were little, that a certain unresolved tension existed between them.

Pop would disappear for a few days, and Ma would grow quiet. She used to run the water in the upstairs bathroom so we wouldn’t hear her cry. We’d stand outside the door, waiting, using our fingers to chip away brittle strips of cracked white paint, and we’d look at each other until she turned off the tap and then we’d scatter.

When Pop finally showed up, he’d bring Ma an amaryllis bulb. Terra cotta pots filled with amaryllis lined the iron shelves in the greenhouse next to the stable. There were so many of them, Ma finally ran out of room and reluctantly started keeping them at my grandfather’s conservatory.

One time Pop went away to New York for a weekend, claimed it was a business trip – “dirty business,” Ma said, showing us his empty briefcase. Pop was always taking so-called business trips when we were little. As we got older, they relaxed into overdue vacations.

“So what? Pop’s always carrying around an empty briefcase,” I said, shrugging, earning a mild cuff on the back of the head. It wasn’t until I was twelve that I finally realized what the amaryllis bulbs signified.

“Pop’s trying to make up for going around with other women. He’s got a guilty conscience,” I said to Bing, who looked unconvinced.

“This is interesting,” Ma said to Pop late Sunday night as Bingo and I eavesdropped in our pyjamas from our hiding spot on the second-storey landing. “Two amaryllis bulbs.”

“Yeah, well.” He kissed her – we recognized the significance of the little silence. “I know how much you love them.”

Ma loved to proclaim her need for beautiful things, as if it put her in a special class of elite human beings, the rest of us content to be surrounded by irregular profiles and sidewalks. She had three ideals of male beauty: Pop, Bingo, and Rupert Brooke. She even became president of the Rupert Brooke Society and made occasional pilgrimages to his grave in Greece. She’d come home dressed in black, swaying back and forth and clutching her heart.

“Jesus,” I once heard Pop mutter, “I swear there’s more than a little Italian in that woman.”

Bing and I grew up in the only house in the modern world where a long-dead poet was a daily source of tension.

“Why can’t she just have a crush on Tom Jones like all the other mothers?” I asked Bingo, the two of us peeking around the door as she sat by the hour at the pine desk in the library – Ma had a thing about pine, called it the people’s wood – staring at his photo, when Pop spotted her and hit the roof, shouting:

“How’d you like it if I took up with Virginia Woolf?”

What did my parents see in each other? In Ma’s case, I think it was a simple matter of aesthetics and disorder. Pop was a good-looking anarchist who appeared to believe in everything and nothing at the same time all the time.

Of course, I might be overthinking the matter.

“It’s good to have a man around,” she said. “In case the sewage pipe ruptures.”

They used to get into fist fights, Ma and Pop, for Christ’s sake, Uncle Tom taking bets from Bing and me on the outcome – collecting on them, too, once threatening to kneecap me if I didn’t pay up. But I spent a lot of time studying them, watching them, searching for clues, and they had a way of looking at each other.

In addition to his improbable Irish beauty, talent for canine colouring and marrying well, Pop had one other minor gift: He knew a lot about magic. Before he met Ma, he used to perform as Fantastic Flanagan at fairs, second-rate nightclubs, and nursing homes. Afterward, he pretty much confined his act to our living room – it took me until puberty to figure out that these were tricks he did. His greatest illusion was convincing Bingo and me that he was some sort of special being endowed with extraordinary powers. We made an exception for him. To us, the drunkenness was a form of penicillin, his way of coping with the burden of an ordinary existence.

“Ah, boys, I wasn’t meant for this world,” he used to tell us as we helped him up the stairs and into bed, me under one shoulder, Bingo holding up his half. “Charlie Flanagan sentenced to life on earth without parole. It’s a cruel fate for a man such as I.”

Then I’d catch him pissing in the driveway after a night on the town, and I’d wonder.

Uncle Tom used to tell me, “The thing of it is, Noodle, they’re all dense as bottled shite, even Charlie. Thank God every day that you and Bingo have got me, or Lord knows what would become of you.”

Tom lived with us, took care of us, cooked and cleaned and fought with Pop on a daily basis – Pop referring to him as our “maiden uncle.” To witness one of their foaming encounters was to contemplate a small boat on a collision course with Niagara Falls – every brawl a kind of helpless plunge.

So many fights, and Bingo and I were like turkeys in the rain, standing around helpless, tail feathers drooping, watching in wonder as they crashed through the railing of the upper-storey balcony, Pop’s hands around Tom’s neck, Tom’s arms flailing, fury seeming to suspend them in mid-air. The whole murderous time they’d keep arguing, talking, always talking, a wall of sound and temper, how many times I just wanted to scream at them, “Shut up! For Christ’s sake! Shut the hell up!”

The end would arrive with a big thump, them landing in a mangled heap at our feet, Bingo grabbing my arm in excitement, thrilled by all that mayhem, while my circulation was grinding to a shuddering standstill.

Brawling came naturally to the Flanagan brothers.

“Your grandfather never backed away from a disagreement,” Pop told us. His father’s penchant for fighting was one of Pop’s favourite topics when we were growing up. Pop had a fairly narrow measure of manhood and used broken noses to chart masculinity the way scientists recruit tree rings to chronicle age.

“He got into a terrible flap with the parish priest back home one Sunday after Mass.”

“What were they fighting about, Pop?” I asked him, already familiar with the answer by the time I could tie my shoes.

“The fighting skills of the American army, of course – how he loved to hold forth on that subject. I well recall your grandfather talking to me about the glories of the American fighting man in my high chair. ‘The Americans couldn’t lick their own lips,’ says Father Duffy to your grandfather the moment he sees him – this is before the Yanks entered the war. Well, you might just as well pour gasoline into hell . . . the eruption could be heard from miles around. Let me tell you a little something about your grandfather, God bless him, you wouldn’t want to stand next to him and light a match.”

Whenever Pop talked about his old man, I could smell something burning. Hugh Flanagan was a firestorm, according to Pop. “He left grass fires where he walked. He burned down barns with the ferocity of his judgment.”

He sure as hell knew how to piss off a priest.

“May your sons never have any luck,” Father Duffy shouted, slamming the door behind him. Soon after, Hugh and Loretta Flanagan left Ireland with their family, three boys, Tom, William, and Charlie, and two girls, Brigid and Rosalie, and immigrated to Boston. It was 1940. When it came time for the United States to enter the war, Hugh wanted his two older sons, Tom and William, in American uniform. Pop was too young to enlist.

“Your grandfather never recovered from the disgrace of your uncle Tom trying to join up wearing ladies’ underclothes,” Pop told me. I was eight, standing across from him in the living room, where he sat parked in his favourite Morris chair, voice booming as I flinched.

“That’s a goddamn lie, Charlie Flanagan, and you know it. I wanted to serve. My flat feet kept me out of the action. Name one veteran, dead or alive, that’s suffered as much as I have,” Tom hollered from the kitchen, where he was chopping onions for stew.

“Oh, so that’s what they’re calling cowardice these days, a matter for the podiatrist, is it? Next you’ll be telling me had you only been born with balls, you’d be the boys’ uncle instead of their aunt.” Pop, never happier than when he was producing friction, approached me playfully, shoulders hunched, assuming a classic boxer’s stance, punching the air, one-two-three, narrowly missing my chin.

“Your uncle Tom single-handedly put the personality in disorder,” he said.

Uncle Tom was my mother’s sworn enemy. He referred to her as the Female B– his obtuse way of calling her a bitch. He was always doing funny things with language, mangling words, making up crazy expressions, being deliberately provocative, saying schedule as if it were pronounced “shek-a-dool” and then daring you to correct him. Tom never outgrew the desire for negative attention, a trait he shared in common with Ma.

Ironically, considering their mutual hatred, there wasn’t much to give or take between their views. Tom and Ma were against just about everything everyone else was for, yet year in and year out, they circled each other, glaring like rival warlords.

“And thank God for it,” Pop proclaimed. “Jesus, Collie, can you imagine what might happen if they joined forces?”

“Move over, Abbott and Costello,” I said.

I suspect that my mother underwrote every postwar revolution undertaken by Marxist insurrectionists from one end of the globe to the other. Anais Lowell Flanagan was writing cheques for her pet causes all through the 1970s when we were growing up. Nothing Ma enjoyed more than the incendiary overthrow of established order.

Uncle Tom lived for the pleasure of infiltrating and disrupting her political gatherings. He used to call everyone on the guest list and tell each one there had been an outbreak of impetigo at the house, leaving my mother to fume when no one showed up.

“Some revolutionary he turned out to be . . . scared of a little fungus,” he’d report to Bingo and me, receiver to ear, as he knocked them off the list one by one.

He raced for the phone whenever it rang, and if he didn’t approve of the caller – he never acceded to anyone – he’d shout into the receiver, “Gotta go. There’s a squirrel in the house!”

Once in a while, someone would call back.

“Hello, this is Denny the Red. May I speak with Anais?”

“I’m sorry, there’s no Denny the Red here. You’ve got the wrong number.”

“No, you don’t understand. I’m Denny the Red–”

“Are you deaf as well as dumb? I told you there’s no Denny the Red at this number.”

He used to put Bingo and me through the same crazy routine. Dialing home was like trying to get God’s private line. When I was in grade six I broke my arm at school, and the hospital called, trying to get permission to operate. I was going nuts from the pain – it was a compound fracture – everyone, including the surgeon, was standing around waiting to go, and a nurse walked in with a bewildered look on her face and announced there appeared to be some emergency at my house.

“Something about a squirrel?” she said.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 2.5
( 44 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 44 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 28, 2011

    One of my top ten favorites!

    Loved this book, which touched every emotion. A cut above much of what's out there. Beautifully descriptive, wonderful development of characters, smart and witty dialogue. The plot unfolds as slowly as life does. Probably not for readers who are looking for quick, suspenseful reads. This must be savored. Elizabeth Kelly is a talented wordsmith.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 16, 2011

    Amazing Story

    The book tackles a very significant and unique situation of a young man but what he goes through is something anyone can go through. The feeling of losing you brother and best friend hits hard in the story. It teaches you that rejection by family has underlying reasons and that o matter the setting, family and love shine through all.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 17, 2009

    I continued!

    I continued to read this less then interesting book. I made myself finish reading it thinking it would get better. I forced myself each night to get through it. Don't make the same mistake that I did. It never got any better, teh characters are pathetic and the plot is boring. Do not waste your time.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 26, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Tedious

    This book was much touted and recommended by several sites; what a disappointment. I found the characters to be tedious; you wanted to smack some of them. The story had me putting the book down several times though, admittedly, I did get caught up in it in the middle only to be disappointed again after that one flare up. To call this family dysunctional is to call a turnip a grape.....they are beyond belief.

    In this book, black is white, red is green and none of it worked for me.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 29, 2009

    Where is this all going?

    I was definitely compelled by the characters in this book. Kelly creates a really interesting family with all sorts of quirks and foibles. Her main character is captivating, and her voice and dialogue are well crafted. However, the plot took too many twists and turns. It could easily have finished up about 100 pages sooner than it did. The protagonist's first big crisis and resolution (sort of) would have been sufficient. But, Kelly was intent on taking us through too many adventures with the character that were superfluous, did nothing to develop the character, and ultimately leave us asking, "when will this book end?" and "where is this all going?" It is as if she wanted to write four different books and crammed them all into one. Too many wandering side episodes for me. She had a great storyline, and then really got off track.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 1, 2009

    Not worth spending your money or your time

    This was probably one of the most boring books I have ever read. There is basically no plot beyond the fact that the character lives in a dysfunctional family. The ending has absolutely nothing to do with the story that the author is making a weak attempt to tell. I would definitely NOT recommend this book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 14, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    PUT IT DOWN!

    This is one of the worst books I have ever read. There is not one character in the book with any redeeming qualities. The mother is particularly repulsive, thank God we don't have to put up with her for very long.

    Collie, the supposed long-suffering hero is just a total wimp that never stands up for himself to anyone.

    The only one you see a brief glimpse of humanity in and that is not until the very end, is the grandfather.

    This book depressed me from begining to end. I hope this is in no way based on anyone's real life. Horrible!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 30, 2012

    Had to force myself to finish this book!

    This book was a struggle to read. The lack of a basic plotline coupled with quirky yet lacking characters left me quite disappointed in this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 14, 2012

    Awesome!

    This book intimately covers family dynamics in addition to some personal struggles many of us face, especially as children. I loved this story! Her writing style is intelligent, as well as, humorous. This story will anger you, bring you to tears, haveyou laughing and smiling, and give you hope. It left me wanting to read more from this author!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 14, 2012

    1/3 way through this book

    I'm 1/3 way through this book and I'm really wondering why I continue to read it. It doesn't seem to be going anywhere and chapter after chapter I keep hoping this will be where it picks up and takes off. I've read reviews on both sides so will give it a few more chapters, I typically don't quit movies or books just because they're boring but this may be the exception to the rule...sometimes it's just hours of your life you'll never get back. Stay tuned...

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  • Posted October 14, 2011

    Monicq

    Good book seems like it

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 12, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    I loved all the characters

    They came alive on the page, unusual, crazy, quirky, maddening, personalities. So much originality, in the characters. I did not know whether to laugh or cry at times. If you like intellect, and sarcasm, tragedy, and humor, all rolled itno one book this is the book to read. Great summer read.

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  • Posted May 14, 2010

    Apolgize for Purchasing

    I apologize to my bank account for purchasing Elizabeth Kelly's, "Apologize, Apologize!" I wanted to like this book. One critic likened it to "Grey Gardens." At least Little Edie was interesting and likable! Kelly's book may be one of the top ten WORST books I've ever read.

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  • Posted May 10, 2010

    apologize, apologize

    sad story of a family that is in turmoil from the beginning and experiences many tragic events throughout. compelling and sad. all in all a good read though

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  • Posted April 11, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Unexpected & Well Done

    I really enjoyed this book. It's funny, painful and unexpected. I enjoyed the family, they were strange, flawed and demented at times with the main character always the voice of reason. Collie goes throught his life with a tragedy weighing him down with guilt. I liked that he was able to except his faults aswell as his families. The book ends with no major revelations just acceptance and maybe a little self forgiveness.

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  • Posted May 10, 2009

    Apolozize, Apologize!

    "Apolozize, Apologize!" did not hold my interest for long. I would not recomend this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 9, 2009

    Disappointing

    I must agree with AndyAC. A very disappointing read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 31, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted May 26, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted June 20, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 44 Customer Reviews

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