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In the Country of the Youngby Lisa Carey
Synopses & Reviews
In the palm of his hand, beneath ink stains and scars from careless splatters of acid, Oisin MacDara has three life lines.
He has known this since he was twenty-two, when he paid ten dollars on the street in Portland for a palm reading. The young woman who held his hand and traced its lines with a flirtatious stroke that left him half hard did not look like a spiritual adviser. Instead, she could have been one of the female students whom Oisin had seduced during his year of teaching art at the community college. Which was half the reason he'd stopped and put his hand out in the first place.
"Your life line is broken into three," she said. "This is the first part of your life." She pointed to the indented half moon in the curve between his thumb and forefinger. "It's the deepest line: your life as a child." She smiled at him, and the tiny green stone in her nostril rose slightly out of its hole.
"This is the second part of your life," she said, running her thumb over the center of his palm, where a fierce Jumble of slices converged, like brambles attacking the skin.
"And this is your last life."
A line so smooth he could have etched it himself, reaching all the way to the pale skin that barely guarded the blue veins of his wrist.
"You are here now," she told him, pointing to the thicket of brambles. She had a Maine accent. She was trying to disguise it, but it leaked into her words, "he-ah" for "here."
She looked up at Oisin, narrowing her eyes. It occurred to him that he could have sex with this girl. At twenty-two, such opportunities were still new enough to surprise him, and sometimes he forgot to ask himself whether he was interested before his seductionreflex took over. This time, he resisted.
I'll give her a miss, he thought. It was superstition more than anything that made him walk away. He was afraid of jinxing the palm reading, of disrespecting that small psychic moment. For she had recognized what he had always known-that there was a gap, a clear divide between his childhood and his life now. When he was young, he could see (he'd had a gift, a second sight), and in the years that followed, everything, even the tangible world, had seemed indistinct. As though, sometime during puberty, he'd gone blind.
Though his neighbors think he is a cynical, faithless man, Oisin is actually highly superstitious. It's his demeanor that's misleading. He is intensely Moody, his eyes seem to search faces for evil motives, and he has a sarcastic, sometimes harsh humor. People tend to assume that he would not be open-minded to the spiritual or supernatural aspects of life. Nobody realizes that Oisin knows more than most about such things.
If he were as cynical as he appeared, he would have tossed the moment aside, denounced it later as a whim and the girl as a New Age student desperate for hash money. But Olsin, who is secretly hopeful above all else, in the twenty years since he had his palm analyzed in Portland, has been waiting for his sight to be returned, and for his last life to begin.
The haunting begins with an open door and missing tobacco, though Oisin, who has grown lazy from so much waiting, does not recognize it at first.
Oisin has been smoking since he was a teenager, but in the two years since his fortieth birthday, he has rolled his own cigarettes from imported blond tobacco. He rolls them partly because it is cheaper,partly because he enjoys the ritual of creating each smoke, and mostly because he considers it a step toward giving up smoking altogether. Rollies are healthier, he tells himself, pure tobacco, none of the burning agents, glass fragments, or formaldehyde you find in filter cigarettes. This pure tobacco leaves brown streaks where his two front teeth meet, which he scrapes off with a paring knife every few weeks.
This is the second time he has lost the eight-dollar tin that is supposed to last him a month. He's too much of an addict to be careless about where he leaves the tobacco. He has considered the possibility of schizophrenia and imagines that he is experiencing blackouts during which he chain-smokes and then disposes of the evidence. Perhaps he has a second personality that is not getting its fair share of nicotine.
Before beginning the day's work in his studio, he drives to the island quay to buy another tin. Lined along the docks in a sheltered bay are Tiranogue's few businesses: a restaurant with picnic table seating, a pub with fishing nets catching dust on the ceiling, a husband-and-wife-owned store specializing in hardware and Irish sweaters, and a lobster hut rocking perilously on a small float, tended by local girls in bikinis who reapply suntan oil when they're not hoisting submerged traps of shellfish.
Oisin enters the general grocer, which 'is stocked with everything Moira, the proprietor, imagines an islander might need. In one corner is a soda fountain pharmacy, where locals can have a bowl of chowder while Moira's brother, Michael, fills their prescription. It has the same menu as the restaurant, and often Michael runs next door to fill orders for clam plates,but the locals never enter the restaurant--it is meant for the tourists.
Moira orders Oisin's tobacco specially; all the other islanders smoke one of four popular brands of filter cigarettes. He wants to explain to her that he just keeps losing his supply so she won't start ordering extra tobacco. He can imagine her unease as it slowly goes stale on the shelf But he's afraid of how this absentmindedness will look, and how rumors of his deteriorating brain will spread. He ends up buying two tins; it seems easier than explaining. He'll hide one from himself and test the sharpness of his errant personality...
In the 1840s, a ship full of Irish emigrants founders off the coast of Maine in a terrible winter blizzard. Fishermen from a nearby island are able to save nearly everyone--except one young girl. Then, one quiet All Hallow's Eve in the present day, the ghost of the shipwrecked girl enters an artists house, beckoned by a candle left burning in the window.
On a stormy November night in 1848, a ship carrying more than a hundred Irish emigrants ran aground twenty miles off the coast of Maine. Many were saved, but some were not — including a young girl who died crying out the name of her brother.
In the present day, the artist Oisin MacDara lives in self-imposed exile on Tiranogue — the small island where the shipwrecked Irish settled. The past is Oisin's curse, as memories of the twin sister who died tragically when he was a boy haunt him still.
Then on a quiet All Hallows' Eve, a restless spirit is beckoned into his home by a candle flickering in the window: the ghost of the girl whose brief life ended on Tiranogue's shore more than a century earlier. In Oisin's house she seeks comfort and warmth, and a chance at the life that was denied her so long ago.
For a lonely man chained by painful memories, nothing will ever be the same again.
About the Author
Lisa Carey received her M.F.A. in creative writing from Vermont College. In the Country of the Young is her second novel, following her highly praised debut, The Mermaids Singing which was translated into seven languages and has been optioned for a film. She lived in Ireland for five years and currently resides in Boston, Massachusetts with her dog, Axel.
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