Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi Fall From Grace

By Stephen Ausherman

AUGUST 3, 1998:  Grace Quinn drove over her husband. In their auto, still carrying the dent from where he had hit a 19-year-old girl coming home from the pub, she raced the engine, eyes open and struck him down at the site of the girl's death as he prayed. When the girl died, it wasn't on the road, but in the bloody back of the car as he pathetically strove to find someone to think for him.

At the shrine filled with flowers by the roadside, Mr. Quinn prayed the words, but lived an unrepentant life filled with drink. He beat Grace every night, so she had developed a way to crouch up and make herself limp, placing her head between her knees to prevent injury to most of her soft tissue. It was her gracious submission. The kicks marked her and made her bleed. He blamed her for the death of their first son. She blamed him for hitting their lone surviving son, Martin. Martin told his father he was gay, got punched in the face and ran to Dublin. She awoke that morning an English woman in rural Ireland in a marriage that was an abusive chore. Something in her snapped. That he would live in mock repentance and not fix the dent the woman had caused (despite the family's repeated requests to do so), but to live as if nothing had changed, left Grace Quinn little choice. She killed her husband with the car, then backed over him. She looked at the bloody lump in the road and watched for signs of breath before driving away. She went to stay with Martin, her son in Dublin.

So the first novel by Keith Ridgway, The Long Falling, begins. It is Grace's fall from grace, but not the first, nor the last. There is a lot left in Ireland despite a long history of exodus. Hundreds of years could not drain the poetically beautiful land of its passion, its poetry or its compelling storytelling, as Keith Ridgway proves here. Ridgway finds generational tension, family loyalty, city and country juxtapositions of value and the tensions that lie beneath the surface of religious hegemony in Ireland.

Good books are about death, according to master novelist Don DeLillo, and The Long Falling paces like one of the Apocalypse's horses. Ridgway's stories have appeared in various Irish anthologies, including New Writing 6 and Phoenix Irish Short Stories 1996, as well as his Horses novella's appearance in Faber's First Fictions 13. But it is this first novel that will begin this authors' mark. Important books like Long Falling touch on something far deeper in the collective consciousness. The title may refer, as my girlfriend posited, to Grace's turning to a larger evil to destroy evil. (It is she who gave me the book after spending long nights reading it herself.) The era where men beat their wives without punishment is coming to an end. There are a lot of stragglers who hold that this is how the world should be, but it cannot remain so. With a light touch, Ridgway illuminates Grace's submission clearly. When she finally arrives in Dublin, she begins to find a surety and self-reliance she has never known.

If it were a simple novel about how men are bad and women are kicked, the book would never make it outside of women's shelters. In a world of men and a Catholic Ireland where "honor thy father" has biblical as well as social consequence, Ridgway has searched a wounded relationship for redemption for both Grace and Martin Quinn. The distance between them could not be measured in miles. Switching deftly between their voices, the author opens up the cobwebbed corridors of the long abandoned relationship between the mother and son. Each has their secret life. Martin hits the saunas of Dublin, inebriated and looking for anonymous sex. He wishes she would leave. She is filled with a lifetime's worth of regret, and she has killed his father.

Death, like the pages of a novel, chase Grace toward discovery. She is chased by police and a reporter friend of her son's. In The Long Falling, discovery is the kind that keeps us awake, turning the pages like a compulsion. The fiery interpersonal work of this book is the perfectly compulsive sort of read that is perfect for the summer. How it ends, you'll have to read for yourself. (Houghton Mifflin, cloth, $22)

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