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Storytelling at its finest

DELANEY’S TRILOGY  COMES TO A SATISFYING CLOSE

BY DREW GALLAGHER

FOR THE FREE LANCE–STAR

THE  HIGHEST compliment I can pay to Frank Delaney is that as I’ve read his Ben McCarthy trilogy the stories contained in these novels have evoked memories of Chuck Barr.

Chuck Barr was a musician, a storyteller and, in short, an entertainer of the finest form.  He travelled from his home in Pennsylvania to Ireland often, a guitar-toting ambassador, and always returned with new tales from Ireland that he would weave into his many shows throughout Eastern Pennsylvania.

Like Delaney, Chuck Barr fundamentally understood that to understand Ireland one had to understand its stories. The children of Ben McCarthy recognize this import in their father at the end of “The Last Storyteller,” which is the final installment in the trilogy.

“More important, we watched our parents share in a philosophy they put into practice.  They believed that Ireland, the country they knew so intimately, needed to have its story told to itself, so that it would have a bedrock on which to build a much-needed new spirit.”

“The Last Storyteller” is necessarily expansive as Delaney tries to bring the story of Ben McCarthy and his long-lost wife, Venetia Kelly, to a conclusion.  But far more ambitiously, Delaney is also attempting to bring the story

of Ireland to his audience.

Ben McCarthy is the vehicle through which Ireland is revealed and for three novels Delaney has adeptly revealed much of the storied fabric of his homeland.  Of course, three novels is not nearly enough to address the Irish situation that has always been uniquely “Irish,” but in  the nearly two decades that Delaney covers in his trilogy he gives a glimpse into the character and nature of a country that has a com-plicated and layered history that far outstrips its modest size.

Each of the three novels has had its own unique cast of characters, but Ben McCarthy and his search for love and for country is the one constant.  No matter how well-intentioned, though, Ben, like most in Ireland of the 1940s and 1950s, cannot view his country from a withdrawn position and he  is repeatedly dragged into the harrowing situations of the day.

It is impossible to summarize this now-completed trilogy or even “The Last Storyteller” beyond the fact that Frank Delaney has attempted an ambitious look into Ireland and its stories and has succeeded in his aim.  There are stories that I’m certain Chuck Barr would’ve loved to have read  passed along in his own travels, but Chuck Barr passed away last year.  He was my uncle and I miss him.

Drew Gallagher is a freelance reviewer in Spotsylvania County.

THE LAST STORYTELLER

By Frank Delaney

(Random House, $26,  400 pp.)

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