The Easter break is here and Jennifer McShane recommends three page-turners worth taking time out to read over the long weekend
The Red Word by Sarah Henstra (Tramp Press, approx. €14.99, out now) is the authors first adult outing. Set in the mid-nineties, she uses a poignant setting of an Ivy League college campus to examine cultural mythology and how it might imbue our daily behaviour. Canadian student Karen becomes embroiled with members of a sorority-bashing, fraternity-loathing feminist group while living in an off-campus house, nicknamed Raghurst. To stand out, she dates Mike, a member of a notorious fraternity, Gemma Beta Chi. Word gets out that fellow fraternity member, Bruce Comfort has gotten a girl pregnant and refuses to accept responsibility, so the Raghurst ringleader Dyann decides to drug or ‘roofie’ the entire fraternity at a party. But after a woman ends up gang-raped after accidentally consuming the drug, rumours spread on campus like wildfire over what exactly happened – and who committed the horrific assault. Henstra expertly uses Greek myths to explore sexuality, debauchery, power dynamics and misogyny with sensitive and sharp writing – and a keen understanding of what is an extremely complex subject matter. Powerful.
Minor Monuments by Ian Maleney (Tramp Press, approx. €11.99, out March 28) is a series of deeply personal essays written after this grandfather, John Joe, passed away. Maleney witnessed first-hand his grandfather’s descent into ill health as Alzheimer’s disease slowly became more potent. In twelve stories he recounts his grandfather and his home in the rural Midlands. His memory loss, his deterioration, his fear, and what’s around him; the landmarks, the sounds and silence all interweave over the course of the collection. There is revealing details in each story: the accidental recording of a conversation, the unblemished skin on John Joe’s shins and calves, “almost the legs of a child” – it’s these moments that give the writing great emotional depth and warmth. There are echoes of Emilie Pine here, but Maleney shines in his own right. Thought-provoking and wonderful.
In Jan Carson’s The Fire Starters (Doubleday Ireland, approx. €14.99, out April 4) it’s summer in Belfast city, but no one is welcoming the heat. The sun is too much but the flames come from human hands. And they get so out of control the authorities struggle to handle it; the fires are condemned, the time for them should be over. Dr Jonathan Murray is almost obsessive over his newborn daughter Sophie And he has fears; unnatural fears she might not be as innocent as she should be. He doesn’t know what to do, if he’ll have to save her. Sammy Agnew, who was born just five minutes up the road from Dr Murray, has his own demons and fears to wrestle with. He is fearful of the hatred in his teenage son, Sam’s eyes. Worried that the violence will consume him. Unusual, mystical and so sublimely written, I read it in a single sitting.
Main photograph: Pexels