- Fizzy Thoughts: The Walking People

The Walking People

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

walking people
The Walking People
Mary Beth Keane
May 2009
416 pages

I first read about this book at Tara’s Books and Cooks blog. Tara wrote a lovely review that had me looking for the book in my library’s online catalogue.  Imagine my surprise when they actually had it!  Also, imagine my surprise when they charged me 50 cents for the hold request.  Not that I begrudge the library 50 cents, but they could have told me!


The book was worth the 50 cents, although I’m still feeling a bit jarred by the ending.  Talk about avoiding confrontation!

Oh.  You probably want to know what it’s about before I go off on the ending, huh?  Fair enough.

The story starts in Ireland in 1956.  (Okay, there’s a prologue set in 2007, but I’m not starting there.)  The Cahill family lives in west, west, west Ireland.  In other words, they live in the teensy remote village of Ballyroan, a village that has pretty much died.  Big Tom and his wife Lily are struggling to support their three grown sons and two younger daughters.  It is on the two daughters, Johanna and Greta, that the story centers.  Greta appears to be a bit off, although it’s nothing anyone can put their finger on.  She is the baby of the family and happy to stay close to home.  Intrepid Johanna, on the other hand, is always wondering and wandering, and her inquisitive nature leads her into the tinker’s camp.  The tinkerers are gypsies, or the Walking People from which the novel takes its name.

Stuff happens.

Next thing you know, it’s the 1960s and Ballyroan is even deader than it was in the 1950s, if that’s possible.  Johanna is still dreaming of escape.  When one of the tinkers returns to the village, Johanna targets the young man (Michael) and plots her future.  Quicker than you can say brown bread, Michael finds himself in New York with Johanna and Greta.

More stuff happens.  And this time we get to read about most of it through the letters that pass back and forth between Ireland and New York.  Good stuff.

Then it’s the 1970s and Michael and Greta have settled down into family life. 

Then it’s the 1980s and there’s some weird family estrangement that eldest daughter Julia is a bit curious about.

Then it’s 2007 (hey, just like in the prologue, imagine that) and Michael is retiring from over 30 years as a sandhog.  There are a few surprises in store.  Some happen, some are about to happen.

The end.

Seriously.  Just before the big resolution (or whatever), the book ends.  This is worse than Edgar Sawtelle in terms of whammo endings, in my opinion.  Because we’re talking about people here, not dogs!  Oh sure, it doesn’t have the drama of Edgar Sawtelle.  This is a quiet novel about family and relationships.  There is no underlying Hamlet-ness happening.  But I still want the final scene!!!!

Also, remember our conversation about titles?  Well, I have a bone to pick with this one.  The Walking People play a minor role.  Well, except for Michael.  He’s got a pretty big role.  And yes, you can argue for deeper meaning and recurring themes.  But Michael and Greta don’t walk.  They stay.  And since the book is mostly about them, that would be why I have issues.

But then, I always seem to have issues.  Still, it’s a good book.  You should read it.  If you like stories about Ireland and immigrations and family relationships.

10 comment(s):

Heather J. said...

This was on my Friday Finds a few weeks ago, but your comments about the ending have me worried ... I'm thinking that this might not be the book for me ...

Beth F said...

I'm intrigued -- abrupt ending or no. And I'm not bothered by titles that don't seem to mean anything!

bermudaonion said...

I love your review - "Stuff happens" just made me laugh. I hope to read this one soon.

Eva said...

Your library charges for holds?!?! That's evil. (Although my public library at grad school in CA charged for holds that weren't picked up-that makes more sense, imo.)

Joanne said...

Yeah the title would bother me too. If the gypsies hadn't been referred to as The Walking People, it would have been good enough to think the title referred to Micheal and Greta as The Walking People. Seeing that life is a journey we all make blah-de-blah...

But no ending, seriously!? In a family/character driven novel after 400 pages I demand a climax - god that sounds wrong.

Tara said...

First of all, I cannot believe that you had to pay 50 cents for hold! Get out of here! I'd be broke if they charged me for that. Is this a new charge for these troubled economic times? I mean isn't this the job of the library, getting books to people??


Well, I'm glad you liked this up until the ending. I was disappointed by that too. But I guess the rest of the book was good so I didn't make a big deal about it besides saying there was no big climactic moment.

Great review!

Kari said...

Can't believe about the 50 cents. It just seems wrong!

So do you think the ending seriously tainted this book for you? I had never experienced that kind of feeling until I read My Sister's Keeper, and then I threw the book across the room.

Scobberlotcher said...

This sounds interesting. And I think I'm inspired to name my next book "And then stuff happens."

Re: The Hunger Games post up above. I am the person living under a rock as I had not heard about this one. :)

Dar said...

I really enjoyed this book although I agree the ending happened way too fast.

softdrink said...

Beth - that makes one of us. ;-)

Kathy - it's a handy phrase. :-D

Eva - I know! It seems so wrong!!

Jo - just as wrong as the 50 cents!

tara - they don't usually charge 50 cents. I think it's because it came from a remote library. Like Timbuktu.

Kari - it was more of a WTF moment than a book hurling moment. And I'm almost over it. It doesn't ruin the book, but it does slightly lessen the enjoyment. Just slightly.

Karen - I think it would make a lovely title. :-D And don't worry, there are others under that rock to keep you company. Also, my library and local bookstores don't carry your book! What is up with that?!? Did you do something to piss them off? ;-)

Dar - yep, I think of it as an unpleasant whammy of an ending.

In a real sense, people who have read good literature have lived more than people who cannot or will not read. It is not true that we have only one life to live; if we can read, we can live as many more lives and as many kinds of lives as we wish. ~S.I. Hayakawa

The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.
~St. Augustine

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.
~Mark Twain

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