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Book Review :: The Heart in Winter by Kevin Barry

Guest Post by Eleanor J. Bader

When Irish immigrant Tom Rourke lays eyes on Polly Gillespie, sparks begin to fly. Sure, she’s the newly-arrived mail-order bride of Captain Anthony Harrington, boss of Butte, Montana’s, Anaconda mine, and he’s a poverty-stricken, drink-and-drug-loving dreamer who pens letters for the illiterate, writes ditties for the town’s many bars, and periodically assists a local photographer, but no matter. Dire circumstances–and Polly’s matrimony–aside, the two determine that destiny has brought them together in a rare love-at-first-sighting, and has left them unwilling, or perhaps unable, to question its logic.

In short order, the pair concoct a plan to head to San Francisco, a journey that requires a bit of thievery and includes both idyllic moments and horrific violence. As bounty hunters set out to return Polly to her spouse, the pair have to duck and dodge to evade capture. The result is ribald, profane, and immensely entertaining. It’s also emotionally affecting.

Although I wanted more of Polly’s pre-Montana back story, The Heart in Winter merges comedy and tragedy effectively. Moreover, while the novel is set in the late 19th century, the tale is timeless, a deeply-felt look at the mysteries of attraction and the wildly unpredictable rumblings of heart and mind.

The Heart in Winter by Kevin Barry. Doubleday, July 2024.

Reviewer bio: Eleanor J. Bader is a Brooklyn, NY-based journalist who writes about books and domestic social issues for Truthout, Rain Taxi, The Progressive, Ms. Magazine, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and The Indypendent.

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