"A hard history. A tale of war. Then came the act that ennobles this bleak tale, shading it, perhaps, to a love story."
REDEMPTION FALLS is a kaleidoscope of bright and dark pieces that forms a stunning tale. The surprising narrator has assembled memories, letters, transcripts, interviews, old fliers and newspaper clippings to tell the story of General and Mrs. O'Keeffe and a drummer boy who captured their attention. A cacophony of characters screams from the pages, their voices all vying for attention.
Most notable is James (Con) O'Keeffe, who might as well have gained that nickname from his status as a prisoner, self-released (without permission) and thereafter quickly took himself off to America. Sharing center stage with him is his wife, Lucia-Cruz Rodriguez and Ortega McLelland-O'Keeffe, a woman of great beauty, means and talent. She provides strength and support --- often unearned --- to her ungrateful husband. If only she could make him happy.
After service in the army, during which time Con O'Keeffe made a name for himself (although opinions vary widely as to whether good or bad), he wins the very dubious honor of an appointment by President Lincoln as Governor of his new home state. He has taken up residence in Redemption Falls, in the Mountain Territory, an imaginary town served by roads and rails that sometimes become too dangerous to travel. There are some rough people hanging about in the Mountain Territory, and some hard times coming.
Lucia, reunited with her husband after the war, turns to writing poetry as an outlet for her unfulfilled emotions. The man she fell in love with has changed. The General --- or is it Governor now? --- often turns surly, bordering on abusive. The couple's marriage, which started its decline from nearly the first day of their matrimony, continues on a downward slope. Lucia is at a loss to understand why. When not brooding about his slowly revealed past, O'Keeffe dives deeper into the bottle, pushed there by that selfsame past.
"How wonderful that would be: to remember nothing. To be blank, and the road still before you. What would he do differently? Nearly everything, perhaps."
The Governor's drinking has become something of a legend. Local citizens know not to bother him when he is in his cups, for his moodiness is not reserved for his wife alone. "Even back in those days there were whisperings about the drinking --- was his stallion shot from under him as he led the zouaves at Fredericksburg, or was its rider the worse for liquor, as some claimed? They say his temper was vicious, drunk or sober..."
But it may not be the drink that is O'Keeffe's undoing. It may be the child.
"Twas never proven it was the child done all them things. He got the blame for every wrong was ever done in that bugtusslin dump."
For some reason, Con O'Keeffe wants to parent the boy. Keeping O'Keeffe --- and everyone else --- at arm's length, Young Jeddo Mooney remains mute, having seen atrocities that no 12-year-old should have to witness. The war took his family away; he's alone in the world now. At least, that's what he believes.
Irish author Joseph O'Connor writes with a mournful pen. Sadness and misery share the same sentence with a quiet wit. The beauty lies in the creativity, for the mental pictures conjured up are of exceptional horror.
Don't expect pretty prose here. REDEMPTION FALLS is a book of lyrical, ugly and brilliant language. O'Connor's vividly rendered images assault the senses, dredging up horrible pictures of the realities of war. It is not the story so much that's remarkable as the telling of it. While some parts are difficult to get through, the tenacious reader will be richly rewarded. It might bear a second read, maybe even a third.
--- Reviewed by Kate Ayers