Set in 1840s Ireland during the potato famine, this realistic and exactingly researched historical novel won the 2006 Governor General's award for fiction. Fergus is a teen when his parents and sisters are burned alive in their hut for refusing eviction by the local English farmer. After being taken to the local workhouse, Fergus flees and joins a band of young people called the Bog Boys who live in a swamp and, "quiet as smoke," scour the countryside for wild hares and bird eggs. Eventually, they attack the local farmer's house and raid his storehouse for butter and meat. Again, Fergus must flee. He emigrates to Liverpool where he is tenderly cared for in a brothel and ultimately leaves to work in Wales building the railroad. Throughout, it is Fergus' connection with horses that pulls him through adventures with thieves, murderers and loving, difficult women. The irresistible draw of America then tempts Fergus and his tough partner, Molly. The forty-day sea voyage to Montreal is harrowing and ends on the quarantine island of Grosse Île. A wealthy fur trader, who lost his own adopted son, helps Fergus escape into the New World where Fergus, now a young man, rides off for the States towing a line of horses that he hopes to sell. Behrens has written an engaging work with lovingly rendered characters. Although it is a simple coming of age story, the author's attention to detail brings the life and times of Fergus O'Brien thrillingly to life. --Mark Frutkin
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From Publishers Weekly
Screenwriter Behrens follows his 1987 story collection, Night Driving
, with an ambitious epic that follows a hapless wee lad from the rotten potato fields of 1847 Ireland to a New England horse ranch. Fergus O'Brien, the teenage son of a tenant farmer, is sent to a workhouse after his parents are murdered. He quickly escapes, joins a band of brigands and, after raiding his former landlord's farm, drifts to Dublin and then to Liverpool, where he is primed to work as a "pearl boy" (read: male prostitute). He hits the road again, this time settling in Wales, where he works on a rail line and meets Red Molly, a married woman who becomes his lover and traveling companion to America, where he plans to become a horse trader. The book veers dangerously close to melodrama on more than a few occasions, and Fergus, for all the contretemps encountered and indignities suffered, remains thin and unconvincing as a narrator. But readers may be able to overlook Behrens's authorial missteps and enjoy the sprawling, cinematically rendered immigrant story. (Sept.)
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