by Roddy Doyle
Series: The Barrytown Trilogy, #2Paperback, 212 pg.
Read: May 20 – 21, 2015Naturally, after one of the best rock band novels ever — one fully of music, laughs, and style — Doyle follows it up with a heartfelt story of a young woman who gets pregnant after a one-night stand. Who wouldn’t?
Now, Sharon (the young woman in question) is the sister of Jimmy Rabbitte — The Commitments’ manager. So there is a tie — and we saw a little of their father and the rest of the family last time. Still, this feels so different, it’s hard to conceive of them being part of a trilogy. Oh well — it works — so who cares?. Carried along by Doyle’s inimitable style, this story — which could easily have been maudlin, overly-sentimental, or sappy; comes across as genuine and heartfelt instead.
Where The Commitments was full of laughs, raunch, and style; The Snapper is full of laughs, family and heart. It’s not just about one member of the family this time — it’s all of them. The focus is on Sharon and her father, Jimmy, Sr.
Sharon finds herself “up the pole,” much to her distress. She knows who the father is, a one-night stand (something far less meaningful, actually) she wishes had never happened. Unwilling to let anyone know the father’s real identity, she makes one up (which also relieves her of the need to let the real guy have anything to do with the kid). Initially, she’s in sort of a denial — she knows the baby will change everything. But that’s months away — right now, she and her friends can still hit the pub after she gets off working at the supermarket and pretend that everything’s just like it was a couple of weeks ago. Eventually, she starts to make the changes necessary, but only when she has to. There’s personal growth here for Sharon, when she has no choice. But honestly — other than questionable taste in men, and an utter lack of awareness about Fetal Alcohol Syndrome — she seems like she’s got her head screwed on right already.
Jimmy, Sr. seems like the kind of guy you’d like to hang out in a pub with occasionally — I think he (and his friends) would get old quickly if you hung out with them all the time. Generous, funny, and gregarious. Maybe not the most responsible guy around — but he’s making ends meet (mostly), and doing (almost) his best for his kids. Eventually, he seems to get his act together for Sharon — or at least he tries. Which just makes you like him more — even as (because?) he just doesn’t make it some times.
While these two are on the forefront of Doyle’s attention, we do get some time with Sharon’s siblings (even Jimmy, Jr. — a little bit — who’s still trying to make it in the music business) and long-suffering mother. We watch the family stumble along through financial woes, various school clubs, a bicycle club or two, and being the subject of neighborhood gossip. These all might not be as well rounded and Sharon and her father are, but they’re close enough that you think you know them.
Back in college, I read The Commitments a lot — but I think I read The Snapper more. It’s not as fun as it’s predecessor, but it’s a better novel — populated with actual people, actual growth, and something that looks a lot like actual life for many people. The Rabbites could be your neighbors, and you’d be happy to have them, which makes getting to spend time with them between the covers of a book just that pleasant.