Title: Decanted Truths
Author: Melanie Forde
Genre: Literary / Women’s Fiction / Family Saga
For Irish immigrant families like the Harrigans and Gavagans, struggle has been the name of the game since they arrived in Boston in the nineteenth century. For twice-orphaned Leah Gavagan, who comes of age in the Depression, the struggle is compounded by bizarre visions that disrupt her daily life — and sometimes come true. She has difficulty fitting in with her surroundings: whether the lace-curtain Dorchester apartment overseen by her judgmental Aunt Margaret or the wild Manomet bluff shared with her no-nonsense Aunt Theo and brain-damaged Uncle Liam. A death in the family disrupts the tepid life path chosen for Leah and sets her on a journey of discovery. That journey goes back to the misadventures shaping the earlier generation, eager to prove its hard-won American credentials in the Alaskan gold rush, the Spanish-American War, and The Great War. She learns of the secrets that have bound Theo and Margaret together. Ultimately, Leah learns she is not who she thought she was. Her new truth both blinds and dazzles her, much like the Waterford decanter at the center of her oldest dreams — an artifact linking three Irish-American families stumbling after the American Dream.
With The Dream’s first visit, [Leah] had no tools of interpretation. A toddler … has no way of understanding the sensory input from deep within a sailing vessel. It took years of dreaming, reading, and schooling to identify the venue, to understand that great linen sails would snap in the wind, that the wind itself often assumed a tormented human voice, that a wooden hull would creak in protest against a rolling, pitching sea.
The Dream didn’t have much of a plot but offered vignettes of life in steerage, from the perspective of one specific passenger. Through his eyes, Leah saw care-worn faces of all ages. The bodies supporting those faces were generally far too thin and covered in shabby, soiled clothing. The garments suggested a different era. Leah witnessed snippets of diverse human dramas: incipient love affairs, marriages fraying under the stress of the ocean odyssey, the imminence of death for some…
The passenger sharing visions with the dreamer would retreat to a recess tucked behind a hanging lantern. Leah eventually realized her guide was a boy. She never saw his face, any more than she could see her own face without benefit of a mirror. But she could see his short, thin limbs. Moreover, that recess appeared too restricted to accommodate an adult. And from the dreamer’s early twentieth-century perspective, the passenger’s odd-looking pants were a reliable indicator of a male body underneath the cloth. Nor could Leah imagine any female, even the most impoverished, putting up with such spectacularly ugly shoes. In the privacy of his hidey hole, the boy would invariably remove his boots briefly and rub his feet as if in pain. Naked, the right foot twisted horribly inward. The deformity so repelled the young dreamer that she sometimes would shake herself awake.
Eventually, she realized the scary sight was worth tolerating. After the boy finished rubbing his feet, his grubby fingers would reach for a burlap bag tucked even more deeply into the recess. His hands would then extract something swathed in oilcloth. Once unwrapped, the contents exploded with shards of lantern light in a dizzying array of colors. Looking down at the object in the boy’s lap, Leah could see his chest and belly expand briefly. Then those small hands would rewrap the light-filled wonder in the filthy oilcloth and return it to the burlap sack. With a shove from his good foot, he would push the bag deeper into the ship’s cavity.
The hidden object filled the darkest corners of the dreamer’s soul with light. With beauty. With hope. It stirred every corpuscle in her blood.
Raised in a Boston Irish family, Melanie Forde knew her life was infinitely easier than that of her ancestors, refugees from the Potato Famine. The storytelling skills of her elders kept ancestral triumphs and tragedies alive, so that the Potato Famine and the Easter Rebellion felt as real as the Cold War. Inheriting the storyteller gene, Ms. Forde is the author of three earlier novels, her Hillwilla trilogy. She now lives far from her roots, on a West Virginia farm. She still maintains a potato patch—just in case.