Genre: historical fiction
Length: 352 pages
Setting: Dublin in 1919 to New York City to Alcatraz in 1937
Interest: It was selected as one of the She Reads books for the winter. You can see all the reviews for winter here. I was provided a review copy of the book as part of the She Reads network, but my review is completely my opinion.
Summary: Shan Keagan is an orphan living with his alcoholic uncle. Shan manages to convince his uncle life would be better in America. When his uncle dies at the end of the voyage to American, Shan gets adopted into the Capello family to get past immigration. The Capellos wouldn’t dream of letting Shan live on the streets, so he gradually takes the place (and name) of their dead son, Tommy. Shan/Tommy goes into the plumbing business with Mr. Capello, but Nick (his adopted brother) starts working for the mob, running liquor, gambling, and eventual extortion. A fight between Nick and Shan over a girl send Shan away on the vaudeville circuit. He comes home to try to help Nick get clean, but instead, Nick gets shot during a bank robbery and Shan is sent to jail. Shan eventually ends up on Alcatraz where Nick (who didn’t actually die) eventually helps him escape.
Final thoughts: I have mixed feelings about this book. I loved the setting. Watching Shan grow up as an immigrant in NYC in the roaring 20s and living as an Italian, instead of one of those awful Irishmen, was interesting. McMorris provided an interesting viewpoint on the question of identity as well. The time Shan spends in jail, though, seems almost like a different novel. She starts out the book with a bit about Shan in Alcatraz, so I spend the first half of the book just waiting for him to get there. It took away from the story she was telling. Shan being sent to jail is such a sudden change in this story, which is realistic, but I still had a hard time buying it. The trial seemed rushed to get Shan to jail and then to Alcatraz, where the story picked up again.
Title comes from: Shan’s life was always on the edge of getting lost in violence and isolation, but he always managed to pull back.
Reading challenges fulfilled: an E in my title Reading the Alphabet Challenge and #8 in my Maybe 100 This Year Challenge
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