The media letter says "...I am giving my life in witness to the death of Stephen Donegan and to the goodness and importance of his life. Second, to show my support, my admiration for the Peace Agreement, and those who have worked toward it. Third, to mark the human will to harm." Pearl believes that, due to a careless remark said in anger, she is responsible for Stephen's death. She has been consorting with members of the Real IRA, those hardliners who will make no accommodation to stop the violence. Pearl breaks with them over an act which places Stephen, a hapless, slow-witted boy, in the hands of the law. Her primary philosophical concern is her conviction that the "human will to harm," is pernicious and pervasive. She wants to opt out of any further possibility of harming anyone.
On this convoluted thread, Mary Gordon marches forward with a stunning exploration of revisited themes, such as Catholic-Jewish heritage, trouble with fathers, and the nature of personal responsibility. A stylistic note: Gordon employs an omniscient narrator to make comments, in the nature of "Gentle Reader" asides. It is sometimes irritating, but a small price to pay for Gordon's careful deconstruction of everyone's thoughts and actions as Maria and Joseph arrive in Dublin, where Maria confronts Mick, the American angel of the Real IRA, Finbar, Pearl's lover, and Pearl's doctors. She is used to directing traffic and is thwarted on all sides by people whose agendas are vastly different from hers. Joseph is a shadowy figure, more acted upon than acting, and when he does decide to stand up he makes a ludicrous error. Gordon has forged an entirely satisfactory and plausible ending for a precarious set of circumstances. The book is thought-provoking, asking and inspiring the reader to take a position on issues as old as time and as new as the headlines. --Valerie Ryan...Continua