Book Review: Peter Behrens Develops Beautiful Characters In "The O'Briens"
Joe O’Brien is a teenage boy living in Pontiac county Canada, where his father has died at war and his mother is on her deathbed. He has two younger sisters and two younger brothers who look up to him greatly and depend on him to keep the family afloat. Joe is a handsome, rough and stocky boy who has taken it on himself to start a wood exporting business to support his family.
When his mother dies Joe decides to put his two younger sisters in a convent where they would be safe and take his brothers with him out to the United States. The priest of their town got Joe’s younger brother Tom into a Jesuit school in New York and his youngest brother Grattan a job as a farm-hand in Santa Barbara, California. Joe himself, with no set future, decides to accompany his brother out west and find some way to make a living.
Fast-forward 10 plus years and a girl named Iseult Wilkins is living in Pasadena, California where her father and mother have both died. Iseult and her mother moved from the New Hampshire years ago when her father passed away and she became ill with asthma.Now at 20 years old and no attachment to any kind of a family, she craves some independence and a place to grow.
Iseult hears about a place called Venice where beachfront properties are for sale and since she is longing to live a different environment she decides to hire a real estate agent and look around. A real estate man named Grattan O’Brien agrees to show her around and she falls in love with a cottage with wide-open spaces and plenty of sunlight.
After visiting the real estate office a few times, Iseult becomes acquainted with Grattan’s older brother Joe who is running a railroad building operation in the state. Isuelt can tell that Joe has taken a liking to her and over a course of a few weeks; she too begins to fall for him. The couple marries and they move to Mexico where Joe is spearheading a railroad-building project.
After miscarrying their first child, Isuelt and Joe’s marriage becomes rocky and they begin to move all over the west coast as the railroading era comes to a close. After a lot of hard years Joe and Isuelt have three children together and the family settles comfortably in Montreal, Canada in Mansion where Grattan and his family also live. His perfect life however is just an illusion as the once strong and successful man begins to struggle with alcoholism and keeping his family together.
Though this novel is a work of fiction it does an impeccable job of tying in historical events taking place in the era with how the O’Brien family is growing and changing. Author Peter Behrens' writing style is ingenuous and beautiful as he gives each character time to develop and play a major role in the families growth.
The novel at times, however, seems to lag as lengthy descriptions and back-stories begin to take away from the plot. All in all though the story is classic and engaging giving the reader a sense of history and the ability to experience the ups and downs of a family sharing every triumph and every tear.
Contact Kiran Kazalbash here