BookBrowse Reviews The Walking People by Mary Beth Keane

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The Walking People

by Mary Beth Keane

The Walking People by Mary Beth Keane X
The Walking People by Mary Beth Keane
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  • First Published:
    May 2009, 416 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2010, 416 pages

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A beautifully old-fashioned novel, The Walking People is a debut of remarkable range and power

The BookBrowse members who read this book for First Impressions say ...
The Walking People had me from the prologue. Beginning in dank tunnels six hundred feet below the streets of New York the story segues back fifty years to the west of Ireland as ancient customs crumble along with abandoned villages in the path of 20th century technology (Gail B).

Mary Beth Keane describes the various unusual settings in such a complete way that I experienced each one as though I was there (Jean N). Like a series of consecutive anecdotes, it seems to live on theme rather than plot; which works well because of the author's gift for character and dialogue (Jinny K). The Walking People speaks to a beautifully descriptive sense of place. Book clubs would do well to choose this book, because through the lives of its various characters, the book covers a variety of topics that could be talked about in depth (Leslie M). Every time I thought I knew what was coming next, the author surprised me. It was a pleasure to trace the joys and sorrows of this multi-generational family. The insights into the traveller society are very illuminating as well (Barbara E). 

The story gains steam when Greta, her sister Johanna and their friend Michael move to America as teens. Keane realistically portrays the desire and difficulties of the immigrants to assimilate and succeed in a different culture. Her description of life in New York City in the 1960's intrigued me. The section composed of letters Greta sent back home to Ireland is especially appealing, giving the reader more of an immediate understanding of the characters. Greta is a memorable, well-drawn fictional character. The last half of the book held my attention more, and I raced through to the conclusion (Diane L).

On the other hand
The novel is character driven, yet I am still puzzled as to the nature of the main character. There are many descriptions of her, yet she still remains hazy in my mind (Laura R). There is a very good book struggling to get out which you can feel when she writes of the Irish countryside and the lives of country people and tinkers -  there were moments when I was transported and could feel the damp walls of the cottages. Sadly, though, the New York portion struggles under the weight of the author's verbosity (Jennifer W); and the writing loses its lilt, growing wooden and tedious so that I lost interest in the characters as the writer 'told' us rather than 'showed' us (Denise B).

The Final Word
While I felt somewhat unsatisfied by the ending, it is the author's choice not to tie up all the ends (Jeanne S). Greta is such a lovable character; I've recommended this book to my friends and they will be pleased with it (Joyce K).  As a lover of family sagas, this book did not disappoint me and I think it would be a terrific book group selection (Lisa G); fans of Alice McDermott, and anyone who came from Irish immigrants, will enjoy this debut novel (Diane L).

About the Author
Mary Beth KeaneMary Beth Keane was born in New York City and grew up in Rockland County, New York. She is the oldest of three sisters; her parents are both from the west of Ireland. The town where she grew up has a large Irish immigrant community, and although Greta and Michael's story is in no way autobiographical, it is this community that inspired certain aspects of The Walking People.  Her short fiction has appeared in various newspapers and journals including The Chicago Tribune, The Antioch Review, The Baltimore Review, New York Stories, and The Recorder.  Since graduate school, she has taught at James Madison University and Temple University. She, her husband, and their son now live in Old City, Philadelphia, where she is at work on her second novel.

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in May 2009, and has been updated for the June 2010 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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Beyond the Book:
  Irish Travellers

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