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Book Review: 'The Black Snow,' Paul Lynch


A lot of us have been there. You read a terrific first book from a writer and wait eagerly and nervously for the next one - nervous because you hope it won't disappoint. This just happened to reviewer Alan Cheuse. In the end, he was relieved and elated to read Irish writer Paul Lynch's second novel, "The Black Snow."

ALAN CHEUSE, BYLINE: The year is 1945. Allied planes fly overhead on the way to bomb a Germany in the last movement of its dark symphony of hate and war. On the ground, a farmer named Barnabas Kane, his Irish-American wife, Eskra, and their teenage son, Billy, suffer what over the course of the novel Barnabas suspects may have been a terrible act of arson in which a trusted farm hand dies along with all their cattle.

As Lynch presents the story, it becomes an out-of-the-ordinary creation, a novel in which sentence after sentence come so beautifully alive in all of the fullness of its diction and meaning that it makes most other contemporary Irish fiction seem dull by comparison, such as the description of the face of the doomed farmhand, Matthew Peoples, a face like a lived-in map. The high terrain of his cheekbones and the spread of red veins on the pads of his cheeks like great rivers were written on him or the farmer looking up and seeing a fault over the earth that rived the morning sky with a ridge of low cloud-like dirt snow sided on a road.

There's danger here too. Rain can fall with a venomous slant to cut a man wide-open and the way a dead cow can belie the violence of its death, the skin flayed into a charred leather that lay pleated like finger folds at its rear and the sheen off it like new shoes. We read about how Kane's world comes apart even as Lynch's striking language, located somewhere between that of Irish Nobel poet Seamus Heaney and our own Cormac McCarthy, binds everything together.

CORNISH: The book is "The Black Snow" by Paul Lynch. Our reviewer is Alan Cheuse. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Alan Cheuse died on July 31, 2015. He had been in a car accident in California earlier in the month. He was 75. Listen to NPR Special Correspondent Susan Stamburg's retrospective on his life and career.