In the seedy underbelly of Cork, Ireland, the Phelans and the Cusacks claw and scratch, eking out a sometimes miserable existence in paths that seem hopelessly intertwined. Gangster Jimmy Phelan manipulates everyone in his path except, perhaps, his birth mother Maureen, who has just unwittingly killed an intruder and seeks Jimmy’s ‘resources’ to cover her tracks.
“Jimmy Phelan had a reputation. Tony Cusack had more of a stench. Forlorn and forgotten, cast out…”
Tony is an abusive alcoholic, left to raise six children alone with nothing but petty crime and a quick temper at his disposal. In the words of his oldest son Ryan, Tony is “many things, but none of them responsible. Or bold. Or righteous.” Young Ryan, meanwhile, plays at manhood, asserting his independence by acting out in school, dealing drugs around town and sequestering himself with his girlfriend in a relationship that is enduring and toxic.
“They were now as they would always be: splintered but desperate, in love and worn out.”
Ryan and Tony fight fiercely and blindly, denying their similarities while becoming more and more alike – leading despondent, felonious lives and festering in noxious relationships.
And then there is Georgie, a woman who stumbled into prostitution at a young age and is now thoroughly bound by it.
“In order to get [her daughter] back she needed money. In order to make money she needed to continue doing the only thing she was good for. In order to continue doing the only thing she was good for she needed medication. Living expenses, taken from her nest egg.”
The characters of “The Glorious Heresies” are tragic, the setting is dismal and often raw, but this book is neither a pure tragedy nor a predictable tale. Lisa McInerney writes with acerbic wit, a foul mouth, and breathtaking pace. “The Glorious Heresies” is in that sweet spot of violence, profanity, plot and personality that results in something darkly comedic and thoroughly thrilling. This book reads like a heart-thumping thriller comedy on the order of “Boondock Saints” and “Snatch.” It is gripping, tumultuous, and wryly funny. Lisa McInerney shatters stereotypes and sexist expectations, showing that women can think dirty, be funny, and write gritty. A big thank you is owed to McInerney and to the Bailey’s committee for bringing this gem to light.