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If you are looking for one of those uplifting stories full of Irish resourcefulness, indomitability, and bleak humor, you had best look elsewhere. While 'The Spinning Heart' has a few bright moments, overall, it's what I'd call a downer. Ryan tells the story of an economically depressed small town through the distinctive voices of 21 of its inhabitants, each of whom is given a chapter of his or her own in which to comment on the neighbors and their business as well as recent events in the town, most notably the collapse of a local building company whose owner first wiped out his workers' pensions, the disappearance of a small child from a care center, and the arrest of the local golden boy, Bobby Mahon, for the murder of his father. Everyone has his or her own point of view, depending in large part upon their own history with the novel's major players, Bobby Mahon, Pokey Burke (the construction business owner), and Realtin (the single mother of the missing child). What they all have in common is an oppressive sadness, tinged with anger, and a prevailing sense that life is just not fair. Added to this, well, these just aren't very nice folks. Fathers mock their children (when they aren't beating them), bosses rip off their employees, husbands cheat on their wives (when they aren't beating them) and beat up the women they cheat with, children are fearful of their parents' constant quarreling, friends confess to being jealous of one another--well, you get the picture. Hence the "downer" label.
Still and all, I have to give Ryan the technical high marks he has earned. He has created 21 distinctive voices for his 21 characters, ranging from a little girl of about four or five to a number of elderly men and women. And while the town he creates is not one I'd willingly visit, he brings it sharply into view. These stories could veer off into multiple digressions; in fact, sometimes they do. But each returns to the main themes: the essential hopelessness wrought by the economic downturn and, despite their shared experiences, the emotional isolation of the townsfolk. Themes that are depressing, yes; but Ryan skillfully builds his plot around them.
On the title: some have speculated that the rusty, paint-chipped spinning heart set into the Mahon's gate represents the ongoing love these people have for one another in troubled times. I don't see that. For me, the heart spins as we would say "he's spinning his wheels"--it's furious, agitated, spinning, but it really doesn't move. This isn't Eliot's "still point in the turning world." It's stagnation: hearts skewered, stuck on anger and despair.
Wayne Farrell was an excellent reader. It's not easy to make each voice unique, especially since they all have Irish accents--but he manages to do just that.
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The Spinning Heart is an excellent collection of 21 stories surrounding the collapse of the Irish economy in County Tipperary. The main character is Bobby Mahon, a young married man who is upset after getting laid off of work at a construction company. He especially feels cheated by his boss, Pokey Burke, because he and all other laid off employees lost their pensions. <br/><br/>Each chapter is a different resident providing commentary on recent events in the town, their neighbors, their businesses, the collapse of Burke’s company, the disappearance of a small child from daycare, and Mahon’s arrest for the murder of his father.<br/><br/>Wayne Farrell's narration is outstanding. He has 21 distinct voices, one for each of the residents of Tipperary. I was fully immersed in Farrell’s narration that I felt like I was listening to 21 different voice actors. Simply put, Farrell’s Irish brogue is mesmerizing!<br/>
4 of 4 people found this review helpful