FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Review: Mike McCormack’s Solar Bones

In a town on Ireland’s west coast on All Souls’ Day, Marcus Conway hears

“the bell

the bell as

hearing the bell as

hearing the bell as standing here

the bell being heard standing here

hearing it ring out through the grey light of this

morning, noon or night

god knows

this grey day standing here and

listening to this bell in the middle of the day, the middle of

the day bell, the Angelus bell in the middle of the day, ringing out

through the grey light to

here

standing in the kitchen

hearing this bell

snag my heart and

draw the whole world into

being here”

A flood of associations begin, drawing from Marcus’s past, as he stands in the house he has lived in for twenty-five years with his wife, Mairead, a teacher, the house where they raised their two children, both living on their own—Agnes, an artist, and Darragh, a bit of a wanderer, working in Australia.

The time is after the economic collapse that hit Ireland brutally. Marcus wonders why human beings can’t anticipate such disasters but he might ask the same about his own town, Louisburgh, where suddenly many people have become violently ill, including his wife: vomiting, diarrhea, an inability to keep food—even water—down. After days, and 300 people sick, the source is identified as “coliform Cryptosporidium, a viral parasite which originates in human faecal matter,” prompting Marcus to ponder how this could ever have happened.

It wasn’t food poisoning as Mairead initially thought from a meal after Agnes’s first public exhibit, a cause for celebration until Marcus read the catalog description of her work: “The O Negative Diaries, An Installation by Agnes Conway, Medium—Artist’s Own Blood.” How is a proud parent expected to react to that? He can’t help asking himself, “had I pushed her towards this—whatever this was—on the walls of the gallery,” a logical question for a parent to ask, especially if he believes that he has always treated his children humanely, lived “a life which till now I had honestly thought had been decent….”

The associations continue as Marcus thinks about his own early life, when he spent two years in a seminary expecting to be a priest. Then they turn to his father’s last days, to the old man’s quick mental breakdown after his wife’s death. And on to Marcus’s own work as an engineer (the field he eventually pursued) for the city council, and the pressure he often felt from elected representatives who wanted buildings approved that were shoddy in their materials and construction—something that didn’t bother the politicians who were only concerned with being reelected. Sort of like eliminating the solar bones that uphold the world, “that rarified amalgam of time and light whose extension through every minute of the day is visible from the moment I get up in the morning and stand at the kitchen window with a mug of tea in my hand,” hearing the church bells.

After days, Mairead is little better; the local hospital is filled; the city authorities announce that no one is at fault—it’s “an environmental problem, not a health problem,” and not the “municipal incompetence” the city’s residents claim. A little like the economic collapse; no one’s responsible for the crisis but “the city itself, or more accurately onto the rapid expansion of the city over the past decade with its large housing developments along the coast road which had radically increased the draw on the city’s supply lake, lowering its levels so that its purity was further compromised by the increased amount of slurry fertilizer that had washed into the lake during those spring weeks of steady rainfall, the flow going through the pipe overwhelming the filtration system admitting the Cryptosporidium into the water pipes….”

Bla, bla, bla.

In spite of highlighting all this avoidance of responsibility, of repeated disasters that occur because of no planning, Mike McCormack’s harrowing novel, Solar Bones, is brave and audacious, humane and concerned. And innovative: stream-of-consciousness for lack of a better description, not a period anywhere, though indentations for paragraphs, one long 217 page sentence. And Marcus Conway, bless him, sings a love song to his wife and his children, steady at Mairead’s bedside, day after day, skyping with is son in Australia, pondering his relationship with daughter.  A gem of a novel.

Mike McCormack: Solar Bones
Soho, 224 pp., $25

More articles by:

Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University, in Washington, D.C. Email = clarson@american.edu. Twitter @LarsonChuck.

Weekend Edition
September 21, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Hurricane Florence and 9.7 Million Pigs
Andrew Levine
Israel’s Anti-Semitism Smear Campaign
Paul Street
Laquan McDonald is Being Tried for His Own Racist Murder
Brad Evans
What Does It Mean to Celebrate International Peace Day?
Nick Pemberton
With or Without Kavanaugh, The United States Is Anti-Choice
Jim Kavanagh
“Taxpayer Money” Threatens Medicare-for-All (And Every Other Social Program)
Jonathan Cook
Palestine: The Testbed for Trump’s Plan to Tear up the Rules-Based International Order
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: the Chickenhawks Have Finally Come Back Home to Roost!
David Rosen
As the Capitalist World Turns: From Empire to Imperialism to Globalization?
Jonah Raskin
Green Capitalism Rears Its Head at Global Climate Action Summit
James Munson
On Climate, the Centrists are the Deplorables
Robert Hunziker
Is Paris 2015 Already Underwater?
Arshad Khan
Will Their Ever be Justice for Rohingya Muslims?
Jill Richardson
Why Women Don’t Report Sexual Assault
Dave Clennon
A Victory for Historical Accuracy and the Peace Movement: Not One Emmy for Ken Burns and “The Vietnam War”
W. T. Whitney
US Harasses Cuba Amid Mysterious Circumstances
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
Things That Make Sports Fans Uncomfortable
George Capaccio
Iran: “Snapping Back” Sanctions and the Threat of War
Kenneth Surin
Brexit is Coming, But Which Will It Be?
Louis Proyect
Moore’s “Fahrenheit 11/9”: Entertaining Film, Crappy Politics
Ramzy Baroud
Why Israel Demolishes: Khan Al-Ahmar as Representation of Greater Genocide
Ben Dangl
The Zapatistas’ Dignified Rage: Revolutionary Theories and Anticapitalist Dreams of Subcommandante Marcos
Ron Jacobs
Faith, Madness, or Death
Bill Glahn
Crime Comes Knocking
Terry Heaton
Pat Robertson’s Hurricane “Miracle”
Dave Lindorff
In Montgomery County PA, It’s Often a Jury of White People
Louis Yako
From Citizens to Customers: the Corporate Customer Service Culture in America 
William Boardman
The Shame of Dianne Feinstein, the Courage of Christine Blasey Ford 
Ernie Niemi
Logging and Climate Change: Oregon is Appalachia and Timber is Our Coal
Jessicah Pierre
Nike Says “Believe in Something,” But Can It Sacrifice Something, Too?
Paul Fitzgerald - Elizabeth Gould
Weaponized Dreams? The Curious Case of Robert Moss
Olivia Alperstein
An Environmental 9/11: the EPA’s Gutting of Methane Regulations
Ted Rall
Why Christine Ford vs. Brett Kavanaugh is a Train Wreck You Can’t Look Away From
Lauren Regan
The Day the Valves Turned: Defending the Pipeline Protesters
Ralph Nader
Questions, Questions Where are the Answers?
Binoy Kampmark
Deplatforming Germaine Greer
Raouf Halaby
It Should Not Be A He Said She Said Verdict
Robert Koehler
The Accusation That Wouldn’t Go Away
Jim Hightower
Amazon is Making Workers Tweet About How Great It is to Work There
Robby Sherwin
Rabbi, Rabbi, Where For Art Thou Rabbi?
Vern Loomis
Has Something Evil This Way Come?
Steve Baggarly
Disarm Trident Walk Ends in Georgia
Graham Peebles
Priorities of the Time: Peace
Michael Doliner
The Department of Demonization
David Yearsley
Bollocks to Brexit: the Plumber Sings
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail