Apologize, apologize! (2009) by Elizabeth Kelly is my favorite book so far this year. The story line is unique and the writing is exceptional. I have not heard anyone refer to an author as a "wordsmith" in a long time. Kelly is an exceptional wordsmith. Her characters are succinct and her use of the language is wonderful. I can easily see the most difficult imagery through her use of the language. I found myself folding over corners of pages to the lines or small passages that I wanted to re-read. I seldom do that.
The artwork on the cover that I have pictured is from the hardback book and is wonderfully designed, a little misleading if you judge a book by the cover. I read an advance reader soft cover that I picked up a couple of months ago and just got around to read - I wish I had not waited. The advance book has equally misleading cover artwork and it is ugly to boot.
The book's main character is Collie Flanigan. Collie is born into one of America's rich families, with roots to old money and the tentacles of the new rich. Every person in his family is a bizarre character. He is the down-to-earth common-sense member of the family, the most unique thing about him is his being named after his parent's favorite dog breed. The first third of the book is entirely about his family and his early years and is a set up for the rest of the book which is one turn of events after another. At times unbelievable, but always entertaining and always well written.
Collie has a rich empire building grandfather who is called "The Falcon", a brother named Bingo after his mother's favorite dog, and then there are his parents and uncle. Collie and Bingo live on Martha's Vineyard with their flamboyantly funny alcoholic father; their razor witted mother who is obsessed with Bingo, dogs, and Marxist politics; and also with Uncle Tom. Uncle Tom is a great character - he is a drunk, he raises racing pigeons, and he has raised the boys on his bizarre form of wit and wisdom. I like Uncle Tom the best of all the characters - except Collie. I was not prepared to like Collie as much as I did.
I will share one of the "Uncle Toms" that I thought was touching and funny. Bingo is the golden boy, seemingly fearless. Only Uncle Tom and Collie realize that behind that bravado there was a little boy that was afraid of many things. Uncle Tom teaches the boys a limerick about the Mouse on the Barroom Floor:
Some Guinness was spilled on the barroom floor
when the pub was shut for the night.
Out of his hole crept a wee brown mouse
and stood in the pale moonlight.
He lapped up the frothy brew from the floor,
then back on his haunches he sat.
And all night long you could hear him roar,
‘Bring on the ***dam cat!’
So whenever Bingo is afraid as a child, he mutters to himself "Bring on the ***dam cat!" to give himself courage. I found that endearing and a very smart way of Uncle Tom giving Bingo courage.
Collie's life is turned upside down by tragedy, not once but three times! This is his story about how he handles that tragedy, his part in it, and his guilt. After the first tragedy he decides to make a "man-plan", a plan on how to become the man he wants to be. Along the way he has to deal with his dysfunctional family and the other tragedies as well. There is no apology for being rich, the book really isn't about that at all. The wealth is a minor part of the book and only serves as a device to move the storyline along.
This is a first novel for Kelly, and it is a must-read as far as I am concerned.