Tuesday, May 27, 2008

I finished Forever by Pete Hamill about two weeks ago and really enjoyed it. The book begins in Ireland following the life of Cormac O'Connor. Born in 1741 when Protestant rule made following any other religion punishable by death, Cormac grows up half Jewish and half Pagan, having to keep both a secret, all the while learning more and more about his family heritage and having to mask his true identity. Tragedy befalls Cormac and his family, and seeking revenge on those who have caused the tragedy, Cormac travels to New York to pursue the Earl of Warren.

This book covers a huge swath of New York history, I won't go into the details so I don't spoil some of the suprises, but Cormac can essentially live forever if he stays on the island of Manhattan. So with that in mind, Cormac watches New York grow from a small, dirty, wild town with not enough water or police to the thriving metropolis of today. I was fascinated by some of the characters, Cormac's boss at the printing press, Korhogo, the Countess, and many many other lively characters. But for me, the strongest part of the book is the first half. I was so sucked into Cormac's childhood in Ireland. His parents and the small piece of land he grew up on were so vivid and real to me. The author did a fantastic job of portraying this time and some of the more mysterious and ellusive pagan practices and beliefs. I also enjoyed the first part of Cormac's adventures in New York. But as we progressed out of the Revolutionary War and into some of the later Tammany Hall scandal, things stalled a bit. Though the lull rather fit with Cormac's struggles to stay connected to the world throughout the decades, I found that the author, who is a New Yorker and a journalist, really seemed to want to share all his knowledge about the city and some of his personal experiences within the city. This desire to share tended to overwhelm the plot and characters a bit for me. I felt like New York was certainly a main character but I felt disconnected from Cormac as the protagonist at times.

As the book was being written September 11th, 2001 occured and as book about New York, the author of course felt that he had to include this catastrophe. I understand the need to process that event and what it meant to the country and to New York in particular, but I felt as if the ending was sort of slapped together to include September 11th. I thought it was well written and fascinating to see September 11th from Cormac's perspective but I just didn't love how it fit in with the storyline and it felt a little manipulative. And naturally the ending left me a little conflicted but again, read it and we can discuss, I don't want to give it all away here! All in all a really fascinating study of New York, war, religious conflict and a little bit of love thrown in for good measure. I think you'd like it.

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