Everything in This Country Must: A Novella and Two Stories

Everything in This Country Must: A Novella and Two Stories

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by Colum McCann

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In Everything in This Country Must, Colum McCann, a writer of fierce originality and haunting lyricism, has turned to the Troubles in Northern Ireland and reveals, as only a fiction writer can, the reverberations of political tragedy in the most intimate lives of men and women, parents and especially children. In the title story, a teenage girl must quash her feelings…  See more details below


In Everything in This Country Must, Colum McCann, a writer of fierce originality and haunting lyricism, has turned to the Troubles in Northern Ireland and reveals, as only a fiction writer can, the reverberations of political tragedy in the most intimate lives of men and women, parents and especially children. In the title story, a teenage girl must quash her feelings of gratitude and humanity toward the British soldiers who have saved her father's horse. The young hero of the novella "Hunger Strike" tries to replicate the experience of his uncle, a Catholic prisoner in the notorious H-block on hunger strike for better conditions. And in "Wood," a small boy is torn between his parents' loyalties as he does his part for the Protestant marches.

Everything in This Country Must takes on a subject rarely tackled in fiction, and seldom with such restraint and delicacy. Writing in a new form, but with the skill and poetic force that have brought him international acclaim, Colum McCann here presents a collection of masterful short fiction--the one work to read on Northern Ireland.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
McCann, who distinguished himself among the impressive flood of recent Irish writers being well-published stateside with his remarkable book of stories, Fishing the Sloe-Black River, and the equally well-received Songdogs and This Side of Brightness, shows off all his talents here, although with mixed results. The two very short stories that begin the book (the title story and "Wood") are sketches, really, and though written with great spirit, are extremely slight. "Everything in the Country Must" involves an archetypal figure struggling to save a horse in a flood, and is a kind of Beckett vignette with muscle. McCann shows he has an eye for dramatic dynamics, but is so untethered in his language ("I stretched wide like love and put one foot on the rock... ") that the narrative becomes annoying in its indulgence. "Wood" fares no better. Again, it is a small event rendered with a kind of mythical grandeur: "Daddy" was "so tall he could grab onto the rim of the door in the mill and pull himself up ten times." But Daddy has a fall, and the mother and young children must drag their cut of lumber to the mill for payment. The muted heroism is so coyly underplayed as to be transparent, which hardly prepares readers for the novella that ends this slender tome. At first blush, "Hunger Strike" is another one of those tales too encumbered by the too-familiar big "Oirish" themes of history, hunger, violence, protest. But the story of 13-year-old Kevin and his mother, holed up in a caravan on the Galway coast in order to avoid the spectacle of Kevin's uncle's slow death "on the blanket" in, presumably, Long Kesh prison, is a piece of work bound for anthology heaven. With the kind of imaginative verve that marked his earlier stories, McCann takes the interior world of this teenager--sneaking smokes from his guitar-playing mother, listening to rock 'n' roll on the radio, thinking of girls and his dead father--and unpacks it with loving delicacy. Kevin in his wanderings in this place he finds "stupid" meets an old Lithuanian couple who live by the shore; they take the boy into their home, and the old man teaches Kevin how to handle a kayak. To while away the excruciating days of the uncle's hunger strike, Kevin and his mother play chess and make sport of constructing new pieces out of bread and cocoa and then putting them in the fridge--they delight in eating "the Queen." There are no pat answers here, as the Lithuanian man, long ago self-exiled from his homeland, makes gently clear. And McCann startles just enough with beauteous phrases (a stone wall "runs like a bad suture towards the sea") and lasting images (Kevin doing his homework on a stool next to his mother at the piano, as she plays for tips in a Galway pub) to keep readers amazed and near tears. "Hunger Strike" builds toward the inevitable mentoring of young Kevin by the older Lithuanian, and the teaching runs both ways. Hemingway's Old Man and the Sea, just as inevitably, will come to mind. (Mar.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
It's been said that McCann is unable to write a bad sentence, and this brief collection is further evidence of his remarkable gifts as prose artist as well as storyteller. The author of two novels, including last year's This Side of Brightness and Fishing the Sloe-Black River, a short story collection, McCann has chosen to set these stories in contemporary Ireland. While "the troubles" may be at the heart of the book, McCann wisely places the characters on the periphery. Nonetheless, each finds his life torn apart, both literally and more subtly, by the violence that emanates from the political tragedy. "Hunger Strike," the novella, is a beautiful fugue interweaving the difficult but rich days of a 13-year-old boy whose uncle is jailed up North, dying on a hunger strike. In each of the pieces, the miracle is how McCann, with prose so terse and spare, is able to create worlds so emotionally complex and moving. While it is delightful to have a new McCann book, one does wonder at the wisdom of publishing such a slight book at such a hefty price. Couldn't the publishers have waited a wee bit longer until there was a little more McCann to share?--Brian Kenney, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
School Library Journal
YA-Fear, loss, and violence are as elemental as air and water in the lives of the three teenagers featured, one by one, in these short, brilliant selections. They are growing up in Northern Ireland, where everything from death to a difference of opinion can irretrievably cut families off from one another. Alliance is a constant theme: is the girl in the title story a traitor when she's thankful to the British soldiers who rescued her father's horse from a flooding river? Her mother and brother were killed in an unpunished "accident" with a British military truck. In "Wood," a boy and his mother surreptitiously fashion wooden poles to be used in a Protestant march, knowing that his father-a woodworker debilitated by a stroke-would be deeply hurt by their participation. "Hunger Strike" captures with wrenching beauty a boy's struggle to decide with whom to ally himself: with his mother, who has moved them from the north to the south in order to protect him; or with the uncle he's never met, a key figure in a much-publicized hunger strike. McCann uses simple words in simple sentences, each as clear and pure as if carved in ice. Their restraint is palpable, skillfully reflecting the uneasy restraint of the teenagers as they struggle not to choke on the daily news. It may help YAs to have a bit of a background in the history of the Troubles, for McCann never spells them out (for example, he doesn't say why hunger strikes are taking place). The stories, however, stand on their own as documents of political and personal struggle everywhere.-Emily Lloyd, Fairfax County Public Library, VA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
The New York Times Book Review Charles Taylor

There is no denying the discipline that has gone into Everything in This Country Must.
Los Angeles Times Book Review Susan Salter Reynolds

Captures that peculiar nexus of hormones, deprivation and political imperative on a Northern Irish child coming of age.
Minneapolis Star-Tribune

[A] stunning new book...Told in McCann's lush prose, these stories are both mesmerizing and painful.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

McCann has the knack of capturing the intensity of these strongly held views in a low-key prose that underscores their vitriol, and in a way that disturbs the reader's sensibilities.
Roddy Doyle

Excellent - this is a powerful and moving collection.
author of Wild Decembers Edna O'Brien

These are powerful stories - gritty, memorable and ambitious. The novella goes straight to the heart, both in terms of its theme and its emotional punch.

Beautfully, poetically written...the need to read them over and over again can't be denied.
author of Reading in the Dark Seamus Deane

Colum McCann's stories are brooding, meditative and lyrically controlled to that delicate point where the emotion within them intensifies with each succeeding reading and recognition. The political turmoil of Northern Ireland finds here an answering, subtly respondent voice wonderfully skilled and deeply felt.

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Everything in This Country Must: A Novella and Two Stories 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
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