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


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
March 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Michael Uhl
The Tip of the Iceberg: My Lai Fifty Years On
Bruce E. Levine
School Shootings: Who to Listen to Instead of Mainstream Shrinks
Mel Goodman
Caveat Emptor: MSNBC and CNN Use CIA Apologists for False Commentary
Paul Street
The Obama Presidency Gets Some Early High Historiography
Kathy Deacon
Me, My Parents and Red Scares Long Gone
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Rexless Abandon
Andrew Levine
Good Enemies Are Hard To Find: Therefore Worry
Jim Kavanagh
What to Expect From a Trump / Kim Summit
Ron Jacobs
Trump and His Tariffs
Joshua Frank
Drenched in Crude: It’s an Oil Free For All, But That’s Not a New Thing
Gary Leupp
What If There Was No Collusion?
Matthew Stevenson
Why Vietnam Still Matters: Bernard Fall Dies on the Street Without Joy
Robert Fantina
Bad to Worse: Tillerson, Pompeo and Haspel
Brian Cloughley
Be Prepared, Iran, Because They Want to Destroy You
Richard Moser
What is Organizing?
Scott McLarty
Working Americans Need Independent Politics
Rohullah Naderi
American Gun Violence From an Afghan Perspective
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
Why Trump’s Tariff Travesty Will Not Re-Industrialize the US
Ted Rall
Democrats Should Run on Impeachment
Robert Fisk
Will We Ever See Al Jazeera’s Investigation Into the Israel Lobby?
Kristine Mattis
Superunknown: Scientific Integrity Within the Academic and Media Industrial Complexes
John W. Whitehead
Say No to “Hardening” the Schools with Zero Tolerance Policies and Gun-Toting Cops
Edward Hunt
UN: US Attack On Syrian Civilians Violated International Law
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Iraq Outside History
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: The Long Hard Road
Victor Grossman
Germany: New Faces, Old Policies
Medea Benjamin - Nicolas J. S. Davies
The Iraq Death Toll 15 Years After the US Invasion
Binoy Kampmark
Amazon’s Initiative: Digital Assistants, Home Surveillance and Data
Chuck Collins
Business Leaders Agree: Inequality Hurts The Bottom Line
Jill Richardson
What We Talk About When We Talk About “Free Trade”
Eric Lerner – Jay Arena
A Spark to a Wider Fire: Movement Against Immigrant Detention in New Jersey
Negin Owliaei
Teachers Deserve a Raise: Here’s How to Fund It
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
What to Do at the End of the World? Interview with Climate Crisis Activist, Kevin Hester
Kevin Proescholdt
Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke Attacks America’s Wilderness
Franklin Lamb
Syrian War Crimes Tribunals Around the Corner
Beth Porter
Clean Energy is Calling. Will Your Phone Company Answer?
George Ochenski
Zinke on the Hot Seat Again and Again
Lance Olsen
Somebody’s Going to Extremes
Robert Koehler
Breaking the Ice
Pepe Escobar
The Myth of a Neo-Imperial China
Graham Peebles
Time for Political Change and Unity in Ethiopia
Terry Simons
10 American Myths “Refutiated”*
Thomas Knapp
Some Questions from the Edge of Immortality
Louis Proyect
The 2018 Socially Relevant Film Festival
David Yearsley
Keaton’s “The General” and the Pernicious Myths of the Heroic South