A Man Like His Grandfather by R. Jack Punch
I read it as an: ARC
Source: review site
Length: 330 pp
Thoughts: During the Irish Potato Famine (1845-1852), many starving and desperate Irish immigrated to America in hopes of starting a new and better life. In A Man Like His Grandfather, Matt Donahee is one such immigrant. After the deaths of his mother and fiancee due to illness, Matt, bitter and full of rage, flees Ireland for America, determined to make a better life for himself. Upon arriving in New York City, he instantly lands a good job with a railroad company and quickly moves up the ranks, becoming a valued negotiator. He meets Jade Malloy, an abolitionist and suffragette who operates a branch of the Underground Railroad with her father. Eventually, Matt and Jade fall in love and marry, to her father’s delight, despite having “broken all the rules of Victorian courtship.” But, like, they’re in America, not England. Would they really know, or give a shit if they did? That seemed weird to me that Matt thought about this more than once. Over the years, Matt and Jade have four children. Their youngest son, Ross, carries the point of view during the next section of the novel. As the narratives continue on from Ross’s generation and through his children and grandchildren, the Donahee family continues its growth and progress through WWI, the Depression, WWII, and Vietnam, and I basically lost interest. Each generation always manages to come out a little further ahead than the one before, always at the right place at the right time, and making the most of the latest trends in technology. It were like magic! They are the epitome of the old fashioned American Dream, in a too-perfect, mostly unrealistic sense. They seem utterly unfazed by everything – all their immediate family is unscathed during WWI (a BIL is killed but he’s only related through marriage, so it felt like it didn’t matter. His widow, who was a Donahee, didn’t seem too fussed about it); they all land on their feet and aren’t starving and out of work during the Depression; no one dies in WWII or Vietnam. The only one who dies young is one of the Donahee grandchildren who falls off a newfangled trolley and gets run over when she’s 10, but hey, she’s just a girl and they had an abundance of boys. It felt like an afterthought. Her family was sad for a minute and then they moved on.
This novel had nothing really going for it to set it apart from any other multigenerational saga. It wasn’t *bad,* it just wasn’t good. It was too rushed and short for a really in-depth multigenerational novel, but too long for the lack of detail that we got. There was a whole lot of nothing really happening, only not in a “quiet novel” kind of way. It was mostly just blah and lucky white men. A big problem throughout is that the passage of time is really, really hard to keep track of. On one page, there’s a newborn baby and a page later, the baby is 17 years old and talking about getting married. In other cases, major historical events are almost entirely glossed over. Matt’s years fighting in the Civil War, for example, spanned two paragraphs (paragraphs, not chapters, not pages. Paragraphs. Short ones, at that), and the entire war lasted for eight paragraphs, including dialogue. Additionally, after Ross’s generation, which ends about halfway through the book, the narration speeds wayyyy up. Each successive generation gets less time spent with it, each point of view character has a shorter time to talk, and there are more and more of them talking. There were suddenly SO MANY people! It felt like the author got himself in a pickle and wasn’t quite sure how to wrap things up.
Ultimately, if you dig immigration narratives where every single point of view character is white, almost every single one is male, everything magically goes right for them almost all of the time, weird sexist comments that seem to be the author’s own biases leaking through rather than inaccurate historical character traits, and being beat over the head with the message that working is the only thing real men should do because education is for people who can’t make it in the real world, then this is the book you are looking for. If you are looking for something with actual character depth and historical detail, keep looking.