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The O'Briensby Peter Behrens
Synopses & Reviews
An unforgettable saga of love, loss, and exhilarating change spanning half a century in the lives of a restless family, from the author of the acclaimed novel The Law of Dreams.
The O’Briens is a family story unlike any told before, a tale that pours straight from the heart of a splendid, tragic, ambitious clan. In Joe O’Brien—grandson of a potato-famine emigrant, and a backwoods boy, railroad magnate, patriarch, brooding soul—Peter Behrens gives us a fiercely compelling man who exchanges isolation and poverty in the Canadian wilds for a share in the dazzling riches and consuming sorrows of the twentieth century.
When Joe meets Iseult Wilkins in Venice, California, the story of their courtship—told in Behrens’s gorgeous, honed style—becomes the first movement in a symphony of the generations. Husband and wife, brothers, sisters-in-law, children and grandchildren, the O’Briens engage unselfconsciously with their century, and we experience their times not as historical tableaux but as lives passionately lived. At the heart of this clan—at the heart of the novel—is mystery and madness grounded in the history of Irish sorrow. The O’Briens is the story of a man, a marriage, and a family, told with epic precision and wondrous imagination.
"Afamily saga spans the 20th century, from Pontiac County, Quebec, to Venice Beach, Calif., and beyond, through two world wars and countless intimate tragedies, in Behrens's powerful second novel (after The Law of Dreams). Joe O'Brien, the eldest of five children, takes on the role of patriarch at age 13 when his father is killed in the Boer War and his family struggles to make a life in harsh northern Quebec. Joe's business savvy, the power he feels in his bloodline, a strong work ethic, and a mentor in a well-traveled local priest help Joe build a lumber business by the time he's 15. But difficulties remain: their new stepfather, who married their mother six months after their father's death, molests Joe's little sisters and hardens all the O'Briens — to his own detriment. This is a family possessed of a 'strange, rough beauty,' as the priest describes them, and it's this dichotomy that keeps them struggling internally long after they leave Pontiac County. Joe wins a construction contract for a railroad project that takes him to the Selkirk mountains of British Columbia and then to Venice, Calif., where, en route to Mexico, he visits his brother, Grattan, and meets Iseult Wilkins, who has just taken the first risk of her life by moving into her own apartment near the Beach. Iseult is soon on friendly terms with not only Grattan and Joe but also their gruff sister Elise, who sells the young woman a camera. By choosing Joe, Iseult welcomes a riskier, messy existence, and what follows, as their children age and the couple grows apart, is just that. Moments of grace and romance are rocked by cruel words and violence in this epic, a piece of rough beauty itself. Agent: Sarah Burnes, the Gernert Company." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
An unforgettable saga of love, loss, and exhilarating change spanning half a century in the lives of a restless family.
The O'Briens is a family story unlike any you have read, a tale that pours straight from the heart of a splendid, tragic, ambitious clan. In Joe O'Brien—backwoods boy, railroad magnate, patriarch, brooding soul—Peter Behrens gives us a fiercely compelling character who exchanges isolation and poverty in the Canadian wilds for a share in the dazzling possibilities and consuming sorrows of the twentieth century. When Joe meets Iseult Wilkins in Venice-by-the-Sea, California, the story of their courtship—told in Behrens's gorgeous, honed style—becomes the first movement in a symphony of the generations. The O'Briens is the story of a marriage and a family moving through history—from the first flying machines, through two world wars, to the election of JFK--told with epic precision and wondrous imagination.
About the Author
Peter Behrens is the author of The Law of Dreams (which received Canada’s Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction and was published around the world to wide acclaim) and Night Driving, a collection of short stories. His stories and essays have appeared in many publications, including The Atlantic and Tin House. Honors he has received include a Wallace Stegner Fellowship from Stanford University’s Creative Writing Program.
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