Songdogs: A Novel

Songdogs - Colum McCann

ETA: It bothers me that I don't explain more about the theme of the story, but I don't know how to explain without giving the whole thing away. In addition I am pretty darn sure that others may not interpret this story as I do. What I think is so tragic and beautiful at the same time is that the father, the photographer, being who he is and loving his wife beyond all else, simply HAD to take the photos he took of his wife. Those photos destroyed his wife and his relationship with her. If you read this, please tell me if you react as I do? I love both HOW McCann writes and WHAT he has to say.

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With his shirt open to the third button, he turned around from the fireplace. His chest was a xylophone of bones sticking out against his skin. His face and arms still held some tan, but the veil of his throat was lost to whiteness and the remaining chest hairs curled, acolytes of gray. His neck was a sack of sag and his trousers were huge on him. Not to healthy for him to be out in the cold. Although it would be lovely if I could see him cast in the way he used to. Even when I detested him, there were times when I was astounded just to watch him cast, back when the river was alive. Those flicks of the wrist like so many fireflies on the bank. The hooks glinting on the lapel of his overcoat. The huge sadness of him disappearing as the rod ripped away. Him counting under his breath, “One, two , three, here we go.” Lassoing it to the wind. Brisk upward motion of the tip of the glass rod, sometimes drawing off the flies by false casting. Finally watching them curl out over the water, and plunk, reeling the surface into soft circles. Stomping his feet on the bank. Spitting out over the water. All sorts of hidden violence in the motion. He coughed again…..

These lines are found within the first ½ hour of my listening to the audiobook reading by Paul Nugent. My breath was taken away. I couldn’t help but compare these lines with Steinbeck’s in his book “Travels with Charley”, also depicting a fisherman standing in Wellingtons in a river cluttered with garbage. McCann’s reference to garbage is to be found in the words “back when the river was alive” and a gate that slowed the stream’s tempo and reeds that grew along the embankment. Nugent’s timing, intonation and inflections make the Irish brogue come alive. For me this is pure poetry. And this is just one snippet. You should read McCann’s lines depicting coyotes. Steinbeck describes them too, but not like this! I should not compare, but how can I not?!

Now I am going to keep my mouth shut and see if this caliber of writing can be sustained throughout the entire novel.

The answer is yes. Astonishingly beautiful writing from start to finish. I would recommend that you listen to this because the narration was wonderful too.

McCann never writes books about happy, simple situations, but he shows beauty and hope. This book ends with a huge salmon leaping high over the brook and the line: "Let this joy last itself into the night." The lines are exquisite. His message too, but this is no fairy tale. This book is about a son trying to understand his parents, their relationship and how he fits in. His mother is Mexican, father Irish and a photographer. He fought in the Spanish Civil War. The son travels to all these places and through his father’s photos and his own memories he seeks to understand the past. Sex is both cruel and glorious, that is my only hint. I understood why each, the mother, the father and the son, felt and behaved as they did. Love and sorrow. Good memories and regrets. When you look at your own parents and your relationship to them don't you too see love and sorrow all jumbled together? Readers’ circumstances will be different but we can all recognize the emotions.

This is my favorite book by Colum McCann. I will read this next. I have only one complaint: I want more, longer books and more of them.