May 2008

Vincent W Rospond

nonfiction

Easter Rising: A Memoir of Roots and Rebellion by Michael Patrick MacDonald

The old saying is that God invented whiskey to keep the Irish from ruling the world. He also evidently created punk rock so they could find redemption, or so reads Easter Rising by Michael Patrick MacDonald. It is a story in two parts -- the first details growing up in Southie in the era of punk rock, and the second is the awakening of roots.

Southie, or South Boston, is an Irish Catholic working class neighborhood. It is the world of Whitey Bulger, hard drinking, early deaths and public housing. Mostly, though, it seems a place where hope goes to die or be reborn. If you have seen the movies Good Will Hunting or The Departed you can get the feel for the area. MacDonald’s world is consumed with the Irish neighborhood, a world that he rebels against and in rebelling finds solace in the rock music and musicians of early stages of the punk movement. Moving from the music scene in Boston to New York and finally London he finds a sense of being that was missing in his home life. Not that there wasn’t love at home, but while some of his siblings found a way out in violence and drugs, MacDonald tries to find a higher purpose.

The second part of the book blends to story from the punk scene in London to a trip to Ireland as a bribe from his grandfather. Here the book takes a left hand turn. The author makes his way across Ireland from the northern zone to the house of his granddad in Donegal. Along the way he thinks he sees the same prejudices that marred his youth in Southie, but in reality finds that rather than being the oppressor, his people are the oppressed. There is a quaint, homey feeling about the trip and the characters he meets along the way, but it is almost if MacDonald has written two completely different books -- one dealing with life in Southie, the other about re-discovering roots -- and the bridge is punk rock.

The story is enjoyable, a bit Zelig in nature in the way he blends into whatever crowd he joins, but a central theme is lacking to keep the readers’ interest. Halfway through you start to wonder where he is going with the story. Once you get into it, the story is uplifting and the characters are engaging, but there is still a thread missing to bind them all together. I find this book an interesting read, but I’m not sure if I would pick it up for the heck of it. The second part of the story in Ireland is the most interesting for me, the whole punk rock era seems a bit detached, as it undoubtedly was, but when MacDonald gets into his writing on Ireland you can almost feel the book taking off.

Easter Rising: A Memoir of Roots and Rebellion by Michael Patrick MacDonald
Mariner Books
ISBN: 0618918639
256 Pages