The Guts

Jimmy Rabbitte, the singular hero of Roddy Doyle's 1987 debut novel, The Commitments, makes a bittersweet yet triumphant return in The Guts. Now middle-aged, Jimmy has a successful suburban life with his wife, Aoife, and their four children, all of whom he deeply loves. Still in thrall to the music of his youth, he's run with Aoife's brilliant idea of finding the musicians from old bands and bringing them together to play their resurrected albums and has created a semi-profitable business. He meets his father regularly at the pub for a pint and conversation and even reconnects with some of the former members of the Commitments.

Jimmy has also been diagnosed with bowel cancer; the treatments leave him with memory lapses while his business flounders. In an effort to exploit the upcoming Eucharistic Congress, last held in 1932, he tries to track down original 1930s-era music, but when he fails to find it, he presses his eldest son into a dubious scheme to substitute his own.

As is Doyle's trademark, the characters in The Guts are laconic, their conversations matter-of-fact. A few pages of terse but pitch-perfect dialogue or text messages can carry complete subplots full of devastating emotional currents.

Jimmy makes his living by plying nostalgia, and The Guts rests on the notion of time's passing and what endures. It becomes a celebration of the quotidian guts of life--its difficulties and hard, arbitrary tragedies, but also its joys. This novel is a triumph, and the last section in particular, with everyone at the climactic music festival, is as exuberant and celebratory as we all want life to be. --Jeanette Zwart, freelance writer and reviewer

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