May family secrets always have your back

we are brennan
by Tracy Lang

“We Are the Brains,” Tracy Lang’s confident, polished debut novel, is a book about mysteries.

The most obvious are the secrets of Brennan himself, which in turn are revealed in chapters written from a third-person perspective. Some of these mysteries go back to the family’s roots in Westchester County, Northern Ireland; Others are new. The book derives most of its narrative tension from the Brennan family’s omissions and commissions, but the biggest revelation in “We Are the Brennans” – and the mystery at its core – is the way it lowers readers’ expectations about the type of book. does does.

Although his novel clearly derives from earlier stories about large Irish American families struggling to do the right thing – a genre established by “like” filmsBrothers McMullen“And the novels of Joyce Carol Oates”we were Mulvaneys“- Lang sets out to break the traditional promise of this highly specialized genre: that these families do it their own way, eventually finding their way toward morality. Instead, “We Are the Brennan” draws its main characters to their conclusions. But that leaves you in an interesting position: they are only half-free, and some have waited until the end of the book to commit their final acts of selfishness or sin.

The story opens on the other side of the country from where it mainly takes place. In Los Angeles, Sunday Brennan is hospitalized after crashing his car while intoxicated. From there, we learn other facts from Sunday life: that she is a waitress and aspiring writer; that this act of negligence is out of character; that she is separated from her large family of origin, the Brennans, the rest of whom have lived in fictional West Manor, NY for three decades. The Westchester suburb is a “commuter town” that leans “towards the upper middle class” and serves as the home of a pub owned and operated by Sunday’s oldest brother, Denny Brennan, who has some secrets of his own.

Despite being separated from the family, it is responsible Denny who comes to Sunday’s aid at the beginning of the novel. He brings her back to West Manor to recover, getting in the way of Kyle Collins, co-owner of Brennan’s Pub and Denny’s best friend from childhood. Kale has always served as an honorary Brennan, and he was also Sunday’s first love. In fact, Kale and Sunday were at the beginning of the engagement, when Sunday suddenly left town, something only Brennan knows.

Since that time, the blind Kale has tried to move on: he now has a wife and a child, but he hangs up on Sundays. Her return, therefore – combined with some mysterious financial and marital trouble that is happening to Denny – sets up the main conflict of the novel.

We’ll find out that all of Brennan’s trouble in the present is due to secrets buried in the past. At no time in the family’s recent history, the tragedy could have been prevented by telling these secrets. This is, in a way, the central theme of the book, and it is this idea that keeps “We Are the Brennan” most in line with its style.

But what’s more interesting about the book is the way it is unafraid to examine how Brennan — primarily the book’s heroes — has caused harm to the community around him. Lang’s use of a close third-person point of view allows us to first see the Brennans’ view of life, which firmly positions them as the “good people” of their city – and then to the world through the eyes of the people around them. To see. them. The last third of the book gives us a different view of Brennan, so we begin.

The clearest example of this can be found in Lang’s portrayal of Kale’s wife Vivienne. We first see her with black eyes, as a “beautiful wife and a good mother”—and not much else. Next, we look at her from Denny’s perspective: “There’s no doubt she was very hot. …but there was a touch of cheapness that her straight posture and knockoff designer clothes couldn’t hide. Up until this point, I was concerned that the writer expected me to associate myself with male characters in their sexist takes on Viv. (For the record: I thought … misaligned here.)

But my concerns were put to rest in the second half of the book, when the “outsiders” of West Manor began to make their case. Vivienne also gets a chapter from her point of view: “Vivienne had known ‘that family’ for as long as she could remember. … Brennan had a big house, nice clothes, extra cars in the driveway. They were a clan in their own right, and during her teen years Vivienne had watched them all from afar, including Sundays. The single female sibling had good grades, walked cross-country, and appeared in the high school newspaper Everything seemed so easy to her.” Raised in poverty by single parents, Vivienne suddenly took on a whole new dimension—to Lange’s credit. And in the same chapter, a revelation about Brennan shows up. that they are not in a position to judge others.

“We Are the Brains” proceeds this way, becoming increasingly complex, and breaking away from traditional notions about morality as it is commonly portrayed in works of its kind. But it’s the finale that really breaks ranks with its predecessors. Lang, as it turns out, is not interested in the neat or comforting lessons learned for the Irish American family, or redemption at the center of his novel. When we leave out Brennan, they are probably more flawed than they were in the beginning. But, to my mind, that’s what makes them feel human, and that’s what makes the book feel real.

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