Oh, Play That Thing

Oh, Play That Thing

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by Roddy Doyle
     
 

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Praised as “a masterpiece” by the Washington Post, A Star Called Henry introduced the unforgettable Henry Smart and left Roddy Doyle’s innumerable fans clamoring for more. Now, in his first novel set in America, Doyle delivers. Oh, Play That Thing opens with Henry on the run from his Irish Republican paymasters, arriving in New

Overview

Praised as “a masterpiece” by the Washington Post, A Star Called Henry introduced the unforgettable Henry Smart and left Roddy Doyle’s innumerable fans clamoring for more. Now, in his first novel set in America, Doyle delivers. Oh, Play That Thing opens with Henry on the run from his Irish Republican paymasters, arriving in New York City in 1924. But in New York, and later Chicago—where he meets a man playing wild, happy music called Louis Armstrong—Henry finds he cannot escape his past.

A highly entertaining cross-country epic and a magnificent follow-up to A Star Called Henry, this prodigious, energetic, sexy novel is another Roddy Doyle triumph.

Editorial Reviews

Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Together, A Star Called Henry and Oh, Play That Thing constitute one of the most remarkable achievements in recent Irish and American literature. And we’re left with the tantalizing possibility of a third novel to follow.
Boston Phoenix
Oh, Play That Thing chronicles the birth of the American century, from the shores of Ellis Island through the Jazz Age and into the Great Depression. Doyle’s characters are too lively-too full-blooded and lusty-to be mere ciphers, and the Booker Prize-winning author gets the feel of things-jazz, regret, memory-right.
Chicago Sun-Times
Written in a combo jazzed-up sassy poetry-rhythms part Irish, part New York street, part Chicago South Side blues This is Doyle’s rambunctious tale of the 20th century’s immigrant America.
Philadelphia Weekly
Vibrant, punchy images come in quick succession, evoking city streets teeming with life and possibility like the gritty poetics of John Dos Passos.
New York Daily News
Doyle can make music come alive like no one else. His prose will bop and bang its head to punk or bump and grind to the blues. And he understands that becoming an American-whether you’re black or Irish-is a game of improvisation, just like jazz.
Rocky Mountain News
A sprawling tale steeped in the grit, lawlessness and hardships of the early 1900s it all unfolds in Doyle’s bold, vivid writing that, at its best, echoes the adventure and rhythm of jazz. By the end, he has us hooked, racing for the finish to a book we wish wouldn’t end and eager for the final installment.
Publishers Weekly
Doyle stumbles somewhat in this sequel to his excellent 1999 bestseller, A Star Called Henry. Beginning with Irish revolutionary Henry Smart's arrival in New York City in 1924, the story follows Henry's subsequent adventures in advertising, bootlegging, pornography, unlicensed dentistry and keeping ahead of the former associates who'd like to see him eat a lead sandwich. After encroaching too much on a mobster's turf-and getting lucky with another powerful fellow's kept lady-Henry hightails it to Chicago, where he becomes the unofficial manager of a young Louis Armstrong. Though serendipitously reunited with his beloved wife and the daughter he's never met while trying to rob her employer's house, Henry soon heads back to New York to help Louis make it big. While just as brash and lively as Doyle's earlier novels, this one isn't nearly as focused; the dialogue-heavy narrative is interspersed with shifts in setting, time and plot, and characters appear and disappear with little consequence, their spoken parts hasty, repetitive and often perplexing. Worse, Doyle takes Henry Smart's charm for granted; readers unfamiliar with his previous adventures may roll their eyes at his arrogance and incessant sexual encounters. There's just too much material; any of the novel's numerous strands could have been fleshed out into its own book. That said, the novel is still a lot of improbable fun. Agent, John Sutton. (Nov.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
A Star Called Henry returns, remaking himself as a bon vivant American. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Terrorist Henry Smart, the memorable IRA antihero of Doyle's superb sixth novel (A Star Called Henry, 1999) makes an imperfect conquest of America in this widely ranging sequel. We pick up Henry's story in 1924, after his arrival in New York City (just ahead of gunmen assigned to kill him) and entry into the criminal underclass as an "advertising" impresario employing sandwich-board bearers. Still pining for the wife left behind, whom he knew only as "Miss O'Shea" (she having been his teacher), Henry-a strapping 23-year-old few women can resist-finds substitutes, and reasons to head west after he has infringed on mobster Louis Lepke's turf and pleasured himself with the mistress of Hibernian-immigrant bootlegger Owney Madden. In Chicago, Henry discovers the "furious, happy and lethal" newly popular music called jazz, and bonds-rather unbelievably-with the young Louis Armstrong, who makes Henry (amusingly addressed as "O'Pops") his de facto "white manager." If you think this is beginning to sound like Forrest Gump, read on. Briefly and improbably reunited with Miss O'Shea and the daughter (Saoirse) he's never seen, Henry follows the embattled (and unemployable) Armstrong to Harlem, meets gangster-nightclub owner Dutch Schultz, and reconnects with a resourceful whore who has reinvented herself as "Sister Flo" (an evangelist of the Aimee Semple McPherson variety), soon thereafter leaving Louis's employ and moving on to LA. Surviving an encounter with a Dublin hit man, Henry rides the rails during the Depression years, loses a leg along with his family (one more time, as jazzmen say), and ends up in California in 1946, schmoozing with filmmaker John Ford, who vows his next movie will tell"the real Irish story": i.e., Henry's. A surprising amount of this nonsense is quite absorbing, because Booker-winner Doyle is too lively and skilled a novelist to let it be otherwise. But Oh, Play That Thing is fatally overstuffed and chaotic. An uncharacteristic misstep in a brilliant writer's estimable career.
From the Publisher
"The action is fast, the language authentic and earthy... Henry Smart may not be admirable, but he is unforgettable." —The Boston Globe

"The terse, slang-studded rhythms of Doyle’s prose have a striking musicality... A remarkable performance in language. —Chicago Tribune

"Doyle is arguably the finest fiction writer to emerge from Ireland since World War II." —The Denver Post

"Together, [A Star Called Henry and Oh, Play That Thing] constitute one of the most remarkable achievements in recent irish and American literature." —The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781440622670
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
10/25/2005
Series:
Last Roundup Series , #2
Sold by:
Penguin Group
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
384
Sales rank:
1,062,657
File size:
405 KB
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt

I could bury myself in New York. I could see that from the boat as it went under the Statue of Liberty on a cold dawn that grew quickly behind me and shoved the fog off the slate-coloured water. That was Manhattan, already towering over me. It made tiny things of the people around me, all gawking at the manmade cliffs, and the ranks of even higher cliffs behind them, stretching forever into America and stopping their entry. I could see the terror in their eyes.

I could stare into the eyes without fear of recognition. They weren’t Irish faces and it wasn’t Irish muck on the hems of their greatcoats. Those coats had been dragged across Europe. They were families, three and four generations of them; the Irish travelled alone. There were the ancient women, their faces collapsed and vicious, clutching bags they’d carried across the continent, full of string and eggshells and stones from the walls of lost houses. And their husbands behind them, hidden by beards, their eyes still young and fighting. They guarded the cases and boxes at their feet. And their sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters, under embroidered scarves and black caps, and younger children still, and pregnant girls with scrawny boys standing and sitting beside them, all cowed by the approaching city cliffs. Even the youngest sensed that their excitement was unwanted and stayed silent, as the Reliance sent small waves against Bedloe’s Island and the big stone American woman – send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me – as their parents and grandparents shivered at the new world and tried to know if they were looking at its front or back. I was the only man alone, the only man not afraid of what was growing up in front of us. This was where a man could disappear, could die if he wanted to, and come back to quick, big life.

I had arrived.

But we turned from Manhattan and sailed, almost back into the night, towards the New Jersey shore. And the silence around me fell deeper as the island crept up in front of us. The last few square feet of the old, cruel world, the same name in all the languages on board as we were pulled closer and closer, isola delle lagrime, Tränen Insel, the isle of tears. Ellis Island.

Hundreds of shuffling feet trapped under the vaulted ceiling of the great hall, the air was full of the whispers of the millions who’d passed through, the cries of the thousands who’d been stopped and sent back. I listened for the tap of a famous leg, but I heard none. Old men tried to straighten long-crooked backs and mothers rubbed rough colour into the white cheeks of their children. Wild men ran fingers through long beards and regretted that they hadn’t shaved before they’d disembarked. Jewish women caressed sons’ ringlets and tried to push them under hats. Fragments of new language were tried, and passed from mouth to mouth.

—Yes, sir.

—No, sir.

—My cousin, he have a house.

—I am a farmer.

—Qu-eeeens.

The medical inspector stared into my eyes. I knew what he was looking for. I’d been told all about it, by a lame and wheezy anarchist who was making his seventh try at landing.

—They see the limp but never the brain, he’d said. —The fools. When they confront the fact that I am too dangerous for their country, then I will happily turn my back on it. But, until then, I commute between Southampton and their Ellis Island.

—If you could afford first or second class, I told him, —you wouldn’t have to set foot on the island.

—You think I am not aware of this? he said. —I can afford it. But I won’t afford it.

The inspector was looking for signs of trachoma in my eyes, and for madness behind them. He couldn’t stare for long – no one could; he saw nothing that was going to send me back. To my left, another inspector drew a large L on a shoulder with a brand new piece of chalk. L was for lung. I knew the signs; I’d been seeing them all my life. The man with the brand new L had already given up. He collapsed and coughed out most of his remaining life. He had to be carried away. An E on the shoulder meant bad eyes, another L meant lameness. And behind those letters, other hidden letters, never chalked onto shoulders: J for too Jewish, C for Chinese, SE, too far south and east of Budapest. H was for heart, SC was for scalp, X was for mental.

And H was for handsome.

The guards stood back and I walked the few steps to the next desk. I let my heels clip the Spanish tiles. Two beautiful sisters held each other as they were pushed back. Without parents or children they were too likely to fall into bad hands waiting for them on the Manhattan or New Jersey wharfs. If they were lucky they’d be kept on the island until relatives were found to take them; less lucky, they’d be pawed, then let through; less lucky still, they’d be deported, sent back before they’d arrived.

I handed my passport and papers to the Immigration Bureau officer. He opened the passport and found the ten-dollar note I’d left in its centre. The note was gone before I saw it missing. I’d taken it from the wheezy anarchist; its loss didn’t sting. Then came the catechism, the questions I couldn’t get wrong.

—What is your name?

—Henry Drake.

—Where are you from?

—London.

—Why have you come to the United States?

—Opportunity.

So far, so easy.

But he stopped. He looked at me.

—Where are you travelling from, sir? he asked me.

It wasn’t one of the questions.

—London, I said.

He seemed to be staring at the word as I spoke it.

—You are a born Englishman, sir?

He read my latest name.

—Mister Drake?

—Yes.

—Henry Drake.

—Yes.

—And where is Missis Drake, sir?

—She’s in my dreams.

—So you’re travelling alone, sir, is that right? You are an unmarried man.

—That’s right.

—And how do you intend supporting yourself, sir?

We were back on track.

—By working very hard.

—Yes, and how, sir?

—I’m a salesman.

—And your speciality?

I shrugged.

—Everything, and anything.

—Alright. And do you have sufficient funds to sustain you until you commence selling everything?

—I do.

He handed me a sheet of paper.

—Could you read this for me, sir?

—We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union—

And as I strolled through the literacy test, I could feel Victor, my brother, beside me, his leg pressed against mine in the school desk, and Miss O’Shea at my shoulder, my teacher and wife, the mother of the daughter I suddenly missed, her wet fingers on my cheek.

—and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution of—

He took the paper from my fingers. He picked up a rubber stamp and brought it down on top of a card. I read the stamp: ADMITTED.

—Welcome to America, he said.

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"The action is fast, the language authentic and earthy... Henry Smart may not be admirable, but he is unforgettable." —The Boston Globe

"The terse, slang-studded rhythms of Doyle’s prose have a striking musicality... A remarkable performance in language. —Chicago Tribune

"Doyle is arguably the finest fiction writer to emerge from Ireland since World War II." —The Denver Post

"Together, [A Star Called Henry and Oh, Play That Thing] constitute one of the most remarkable achievements in recent irish and American literature." —The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Meet the Author

Roddy Doyle is an internationally bestselling writer. His first three novels—The Commitments, The Snapper, and the 1991 Booker Prize finalist The Van—are known as The Barrytown Trilogy. He is also the author of the novels Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha (1993 Booker Prize winner), The Woman Who Walked into Doors, and A Star Called Henry, and a non-fiction book about his parents, Rory&Ita. Doyle has also written for the stage and the screen: the plays Brownbread, War, Guess Who's Coming for the Dinner, and The Woman Who Walked Into Doors; the film adaptations of The Commitments )as co-writer), The Snapper, and The Van; When Brendan Met Trudy (an original screenplay); the four-part television series Family for the BBC; and the television play Hell for Leather. Roddy Doyle has also written the children's books The Giggler Treatment, Rover Saves Christmas, and The Meanwhile Adventures and contributed to a variety of publications including The New Yorker magazine and several anthologies. He lives in Dublin.

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Oh, Play That Thing 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read 'Oh, Play That Thing' because I'm a fan of Roddy Doyle and had thoroughly enjoyed 'A Star Called Henry'. The novel plodded along as Henry raced from NY to PA. I had a hard time maintaining my interest but I continued reading. Although I suffered through every little detail of Henry's young life, the last chapter speeded through his later years. The last chapter was absolutely ridiculous and I felt the author, on some kind of a deadline to finish his novel, wrapped up the story in a matter of minutes with unbelievable scenarios. That's a few hours of my time I'll never get back.
sonrich More than 1 year ago