In the confession in “Home Stretch”, Norton thanks “all the people who made it to fight for the modern, tolerant country that Ireland lived in.”
The book was at first about family reconciliation, but as it took shape, it also became about the transformation of a nation. “I realized he was going to come back and see this new Ireland,” Norton said of his main character. “For a lot of people, it’s kind of bitter. You enjoy it, but you think, ‘Wow, I could have been part of this change.'”
Norton said that his own reconciliation with Ireland came in part because of how his family’s neighbors helped when his father died.
“When I was a little kid and someone died and everyone was going home with beer and cake and sandwiches, I would have thought, ‘Leave them alone,'” he said. “But when I was older, I thought, ‘This is wonderful.’ When they come, they’re not just bringing sandwiches, but stories about your father, and you’re looking at a perfectly round man.”
“Home Stretch” is a different kind of book than what he might have written as a younger man.
“If I was writing books in my 20s, they would have been brilliant, cynical, harsh, and funny in a kind of smart-arse way,” Norton said. “Now that I’m in my 50s telling stories, there’s more empathy and a greater desire to understand how characters can do certain things.”
He is concerned with the notion that the story can continue even after the narrator closes the book. But he also likes a happy resolution, he said, and wanted the “home stretch” to end not with revenge or punishment, but with redemption.
“I thought, ‘It must be about forgiveness,'” Norton said. “That’s the only way the story can end.”