The only son of a single mother, John Devine grows up in poverty in southern Ireland, a region steeped in ancient myth and devout Catholicism. John's mother cleans houses for a living, and at night she sits by the fire, recounting tales of John's birth and the magical effect of her singing on his colicky infancy. At school, John learns that bad girls and boys go to Hell, where the devil roasts and eats them.
When John is ten, his mother leaves for the hospital and Mrs. Nagle, a creepy neighbor, moves in to take care of him. His mother returns, but John experiences his first intimations of her mortality as he witnesses her weakened condition and her surgical scar. At 15, much to the chagrin of his mother and Mrs. Nagle, John makes a friend. Jamey is the charismatic son of a posh family, a boy who gets away with everything. He steals liquor from bars, charms adults, and somehow pulls off good grades. Most amazing is that Jamey is a burgeoning writer and an avid fan of Rimbaud. But in a climactic scene, the two boys commit an unforgivable deed, resulting in betrayal and Jamey's exile.
In this luminously written tale of a young boy's hardscrabble coming-of-age, Murphy reveals, with preternatural clarity, universal truths about friendship, love, and loss. (Fall 2009 Selection)