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by Michael Collins
Scribner, October 2002
316 pages
ISBN: 0743238567

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Irish-born Michael Collins has had an impressive run in the literary awards stakes. Even disregarding those awards gained for his earlier books The Meat Eaters , The Feminists Go Swimming (both anthologies of short stories), Emerald Underground and The Life & Times of a Teaboy , Collins' literary acclaim was firmly established with the prizes awarded for his novel The Keepers of Truth. For this work he picked up the Irish Kerry Ingredients Book of the Year Award , the International Impac Dublin Literary Award of 2002 and was shortlisted for the sought after Booker Prize. And speaking of impressive runs, this author competes in and has won marathons under extremely harsh and difficult conditions. He has been reported as confessing to dreaming up stories whilst running.

This reviewer was mightily impressed with Keepers of Truth and I opened The Resurrectionists with some trepidation since so frequently I have been disappointed with follow-ups of books which I had enjoyed reading. I need not have worried since this author continued in a vein which, unlike some other critics, I found enjoyable.

Frank Cassidy, whose voice narrates this adventure, lives in New Jersey with his wife, Honey, teenaged stepson Robert Lee and five year-old son Ernie. He learns that the man who became his father, his uncle Ward, has been murdered in strange circumstances. His 'brother', Ward's son Norman, has not contacted Frank who is determined to return to Copper, Michigan for the funeral and also to make sure any proceeds due to him from the estate are fairly allocated. Neither Norman nor his wife Martha wishes for Frank's return.

At first I thought the book might turn out to be a road epic but the Cassidy family's travels, while engrossing, proved to be of minor importance except in that it established the characters of its members. Frank is deep in debt and is having family problems. Incongruously, Honey is the former wife of Ken, a convicted murderer awaiting imminent execution on Death Row. Ken is the father of Robert Lee and both Honey and the boy are undergoing severe trauma as the date of the execution approaches.

Frank initially appears quite amoral as he steals cars in order to get the family from New Jersey to Michigan and even indulges in a little unarmed holdup in order to finance their venture. While the trip is entertaining and even funny in a black way, it later becomes apparent that Frank's outlook approaches the philosophical model of Utilitarianism - namely the greatest good for the greatest number (if one restricts that notion to his family) and he can later be seen as strangely moral in his outlook, especially after he is employed by the loacl college as a security guard.

Frank's parents had been killed in a fire twenty years previous to the beginning of the story. He was brought up by his uncle whom he held largely responsible for the fire and whom he hated. His childhood and early adulthood (when he was institutionalised) were spent being treated by psychiatrists, the one in his home town being the benevolent Dr. Brown. When Frank returns to Michigan he again meets Dr. Brown and sees the mysterious Sleeper who is said to have been the murderer of his uncle Ward. Frank seeks to untangle the mystery of his own childhood as well as that of the recent murder.

Collins examines morality, family dynamics and aspects of psychiatry in this excellent novel. Collins' prose flows well in his narration of the resurrection of the past. True, the plot is convoluted and the pace tends to meader, but not unbearably so. I found the characterisations to be valid and the story entertaining although with some unsettling aspects. I was, at one point. moved to wonder at the author's fascination with large women - Darlene from Keepers of Truth was one such as is Honey in this novel.

I do trust that Michael Collins is able to maintain this standard for his future output..

Reviewed by Denise Wels, August 2002

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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