Days Without End

In Days Without End, Irish immigrant Thomas McNulty and his love, beautiful John Cole, meet as homeless boys and share a lifetime of violence and deprivation, adventure and affection. In spite of their suffering, Thomas's first-person narration sings with wonder at the beauty of the world and their place in it.

"We were two wood-shavings of humanity in a rough world," Thomas reflects on their striking out together "in the enterprise of continuing survival." He and New England-born John find work in costume as saloon dancers for miners delighted to pay for a waltz or a foxtrot. They outgrow that job and join the army on the Oregon Trail, desperately seeking a secure future.

Sebastian Barry (Booker-nominated author of A Long Long Way and The Secret Scripture) balances gruesome depictions of massacres, near-starvation and Civil War battles with poetic phrasing and exclamations of joy at the wonders of nature and the gift of life. The duo crisscross the United States, from peace to strife and back, motivated by their commitment to Winona. Rescued during a Sioux massacre and sheltered at the army fort, she is put in their care as a servant but the men love and care for her as a daughter. Thomas's matter-of-fact tenacity turns humorous in Barry's narration; he describes the traditional family they make: Winona, John Cole ("the best-looking man in Christendom") and Thomas (who prefers a "simple hued housedress" to "dragging on the trews"). Happiness is tenuous, and Barry feeds the tension through to the end of this painful and beautiful novel. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco

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