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Call Me the Breeze Hardcover – November 11, 2003
100 (Fiction) Books to Read in a Lifetime
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From Publishers Weekly
McCabe's deliciously warped wit is razor-sharp as ever in his latest book (titled after an old J.J. Cale song), which reads alternately like an acid-induced reverie and the naive ramblings of a man trapped between art and reality. Charged with kidnapping and assault, Joey Tallon is sentenced to do time in Mountjoy prison (or "The Joy," as it is ironically called), a fate not much worse than staying in his cramped trailer in Scotsfield, a small border town plagued by violence in 1970s Northern Ireland. While locked up, Joey takes to reading and becomes a founding member of the prison's first literary society. While some of the convicts take a stab at poetry, Joey keeps a diary, which he later reads, "secretly hoping to stumble upon a novel." Newly obsessed with outlandish film projects after his release and still eager to publish a novel, Joey becomes delusional, seeking (unsuccessfully) to involve pop icons like Joni Mitchell, Madonna and Bono in his artistic endeavors and setting himself up as the laughingstock of Scotsfield. Under the spell of his misguided optimism, Joey unwittingly reveals too many secrets about events related to the Troubles, many of which point to the sinister politician Boyle Henry and his minions. Joey has his own share of skeletons in the closet, including some positively Oedipal encounters with a blow-up doll named for his father's long-dead mistress. His creative efforts bury him deeper in a world of illusion, and he continues to pine for his muse, the lovely Jacy, a local girl who may just be a figment of his imagination. McCabe (author of Booker Prize finalists The Butcher Boy and Breakfast on Pluto) deftly patches together episodes of Joey's peculiar life using diary excerpts as well as letters and notes from film shoots, yet turns the traditional epistolary novel on its head. What results is the bone-chilling account of a would-be writer who collides with fiction because he takes it too seriously. McCabe is happily not at risk of doing the same, allowing his trademark humor and crafty Irish colloquialisms to leaven even the darkest of scenes.
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*Starred Review* Reviewing his life through diaries, notes, and fictions, Joey Tallon has quite a tale to tell. It's the end of the 1960s--that is, the mid-1970s--in Scotsfield, a small border town in Northern Ireland. A bartender and part-time roadie, Joey is overweight, obsessed with both steak-and-kidney pies and Jacy, his "California girl," with whom he dreams of escaping to America. But while Joey is a would-be flower child, gobbling acid along with his pies and pints, he is out of place among the local toughs and Provos (Provisional IRA) and the milieu of violence that taints the town. After surviving a bombing, Joey transforms into a Mohawk-sporting, would-be Travis Bickle (of Taxi Driver) and commits a crime that lands him in prison. Rehabilitated by a nurturing warden, his post-prison career leads him to try teaching, writing, film, and even politics. It may be a new Ireland, but when he revisits Scotsfield's buried past in a too-truthful film, Joey learns the past is not buried very deep. McCabe's latest--he is also the author of Emerald Germs of Ireland (2001)--is a rollicking tragicomedy, brilliantly cast. Joey, with his physical girth, intellectual myopia, and injured indignation, could be the Irish cousin of Ignatius J. Reilly in John Kennedy Toole's Confederacy of Dunces (1980). Keir Graff
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Top Customer Reviews
Joey is a fantasist and obessive and although he means well he seems to make a mess of everything he touches but somehow bumbles along and has his fair share of good and bad luck. There are really funny moments in the story and some nasty and sad moments too. The only downfall of the book is that it is narrated by Joey Tallon. Joey has issues caused by a dysfunctional upbringing and some heavy drug abuse when young and alcohol abuse when older. This means he can go from being in the depths of despair to the feeling he can conquer the world fairly quickly. His narrating style (supposedly recalled from diaries, notebooks etc) can be confusing at times and jump around. While this is doen on purpose and is probably a fairly accurate account of how someone like Joey would narrate the story it does at times lead to long spells of rambling and some jumping around. This causes the book to feel longer than the 300 odd pages it actually is.
That said Joey is a very well imagined charater. He can be an over the top pompous blowhard but he is also a sensitive and vulnerable individual who has had a lot of hardship is his life and personally I couldn't help but like him and enjoy his company. The other main charaters in Scotsfield are also fairly well defined and you do get a good sense of time and place and it is difficult not to feel a certain affection for Joey.
Very enjoyable book and worth sticking through the more rambling parts.
Because Joey does not always explain background or identify characters, the reader is not always sure who the characters are, their roles in his life, or how events are connected. He is "scattered," shifting quickly from Provo activity, to a priest's plan for a peace rally, and to his own search for nirvana, all of which keep the reader constantly energized and involved in deciding what is real and what is fantasy. Clearly unstable, he is an unreliable narrator who tells us about the world from his very limited perspective.
Unlike McCabe's earlier characters, Joey is intellectually curious, reading Hesse, T.S. Eliot, Gogol, Ginsberg, and Burroughs, and he is a compulsive writer. Despite his delusions, and his impulsive actions, resulting at one point in a jail sentence of several years, he achieves considerable success, writing stories, plays, screenplays, and even a novel. This allows McCabe to expand his scope beyond that of dramatic plot twists to show how one becomes a writer, how writing attempts to bring order to the world, and how writing, ultimately, can be misunderstood. When Joey eventually uses his writing in a bid for public office, the sympathetic reader roots for his success.
Fully-developed and fascinating, Joey, like earlier McCabe "heroes," is a prisoner of circumstance and victim of fate. Through him, McCabe illustrates T.S. Eliot's point that "the end of all our exploring/Will be to arrive where we started/ And know the place for the first time." By the time Joey and the reader have reached the end of this circular journey of exploration, both will have been on a wild ride in which dreams collide with realities, hopes bloom and are crushed in defeat, and tragedies exist within triumphs. Enlightenment, as we see here, sometimes comes at a huge cost. Mary Whipple
The extreme FIGHT CLUB like violence of BUTCHER BOY and the implausible gender hijinks of BREAKFAST ON PLUTO take a back seat now to gentle, Philip Roth style light comedy about a pathetic wanna-be and how he gets to be the way he is. We've all seen the stereotype of the lazy Irish bum with desires bigger than his abilities to satisfy them, blowing bubbles in the air, prone to a large fantasy life, and not much good with women. Now McCabe gives us that character writ in neon letters in this tiny masterpiece of precious prose. One of his best, maybe THE best, and I'm looking forward to the inevitable Adam Sandler movie they make out of it.