Critical Reading: ‘St. Patrick’s Day’ on St. Patrick’s Day

St Patricks dayIt was a privilege and a pleasure to get to know novelist Thomas McGonigle while at the Times, and it’s been a privilege to keep knowing him ever since.

Recently, University of Notre Dame Press brought out his novel, St. Patrick’s Day: Another Day in Dublin, which is also the recipient of the 2016 Notre Dame Review Book Prize.

“McGonigle’s novel,” the prize committee said, “is a brilliant portrait of the uneasy alliance between the Irish and Irish Americans, the result of the centuries-old diaspora and immigration, which left unsettled the mysteries of origins and legacy.”

McGonigle is a member of literature’s world community.  You discover that right away when you talk to him.  Whether you’re in actual conversation or reading his blog, ABC of Reading, you find that he’s preoccupied with far more important issues than who is on the current bestsellers lists.  Instead, he speaks freely and easily to you about Roberto Calasso, or Julian Rios, or Claude Simon, or some Bulgarian novelist whose name is difficult to pronounce as if they’re all neighbors living on the same street.

And, in sense, they all do live on the same street.  So what did I do on this year’s observance of the venerable Irish saint?

I prepped this interview below for you, my beloveds, which presents Tom’s perspective on his novel and the process behind it, not to mention his larger concerns about the current state and future of literature.

Enjoy.

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***What was the genesis of your St. Patrick’s Day: Another Day in Dublin?  Where does it begin?

All of my books begin with the moment when I saw a blonde girl putting her coat and books into a locker on the second floor of Patchogue High School in my senior year.  I had been looking at a picture history of World War One and must have decided to write a story in which a soldier would think of the girl back home and this boy would die on November 6, 1918. I changed the girl’s last name with the addition of two letters.  The story was published in The Red & Black, the student newspaper.  I waited for Melinda to seek me out.  She did not.  I wrote a second story told this time from her viewpoint…  this was published, and again she did not seek me out. I could say that the writing disease had taken hold of me then.

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Mystical Harrison

george-harrison

What do you sing at a friend’s wake?

It shouldn’t be a sad song – do you really want to add dark clouds when the loss, especially like this one, is already so sad?

My buddy was 48 and a regular tennis player … and he collapsed on the court from a massive heart attack.

He also happened to be a songwriter (actual, professional) and a well-known emcee of open-mic shows in Southern California.  So, last night, his widow organized a final open-mic night at the funeral home … to send him off.

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