Best Book of the Week!
Eileen Tumulty has had a tough youth and adolescence with her Irish immigrant family struggling with alcoholism. For most of her school years she’s had to keep the house and take care of her drunken mother. So, when she meets Ed Leary, a young scientist who holds the promise of getting out of her neighborhood in Queens, she marries him.
In some ways, they are a mismatch even though they love each other. Eileen is a practical woman, ambitious for a well-to-do life. Ed cares about integrity, his teaching, and his research. When Eileen buys him an expensive gold watch for a wedding present, one she cannot return, he refuses to wear it even after she replaces the gold wristband with a leather one. He teaches and has a lab at Bronx College. Several times he is offered jobs at more prestigious schools that he turns down. He also turns down an offer to be head of his department.
After a while, Eileen becomes exasperated at their lack of upward mobility. They have bought the three-family house in which they rented an apartment, but they still live in the same Queens neighborhood they moved to when they were married. However, after their son Connell is born, Eileen settles her attention on him for awhile and also continues her nursing career.
Eventually, a shadow falls over the lives of the Learys. I don’t want to tell what it is, because it happens well into the novel. Until it happens, I sometimes wondered where the novel was going but eventually realized it is an honest, unflinching look at the pressures on a small family of a tremendous burden.
The novel is told mostly from the point of view of Eileen, a strong, independent woman with a will to succeed. Because of her upbringing, she has problems with showing affection and being open. Ed is warmer and more affectionate to Connell. Connell is slow to mature but eventually learns to accept responsibility for his actions.
I felt for a long time some distance from these characters, but the sheer weight of everything we learn about them eventually breaks through this barrier. The result is a touching and affecting story about love’s power over adversity.