March 30, 2002

Ghosts on the Road

A Review of
St. Patrick's Bed
Terence M. Green
(Forge Books, NY, 220 pages)

(Reviewed by Kevin Kennedy)


                                Early in Terence M. Green's new novel, St. Patrick's Bed, Leo Nolan asks his stepson
                   Adam, an English student at university, "Are there any books about fathers and sons?" Adam suggests
                   O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night, Updike's Rabbit series and Miller's Death of a Salesman,
                   among others, noting that they are all about abusive relationships. He concludes, "Maybe if there's no
                   abuse, no fighting, there's no relationship. Nothing worth writing about."

                                 Green sets out to disprove this in his seventh novel. If Turgenev hadn't already nabbed it,
                    St. Patrick's Bed could have been entitled Fathers and Sons, with Leo Nolan straddling both
                    roles. As the book begins, Leo's elderly father has died, awakening Adam's curiosity about his own
                    birth father. Then the dreams begin. Dreams are hard to write. You don't want to be hopelessly symbolic,
                    or worse, telling the future.

                                 In this modern ghost story, Green's skill as a fantasist shines best when Leo Nolan's dreams
                     about his father manifest themselves physically. Green is no Stephen King (thank goodness), so no
                     rambunctious ghosts are on the rampage here, animating cars and dogs with murderous intent or
                     pulling down hotels around the protagonist's ears.

                                  This is a gentle story of Leo's self-discovery as both a son and srepfather, as well as his own
                      desire to have his own child. Caught between the two roles, he undertakes a quest to discover
                       not just his own roots but those of his stepson, and the novel morphs into a road book, taking him
                       from Toronto to Dayton, Ohio, and Ireland.

                                    St. Patrick's Bed is a demonstration of what psychologists, according to Leo, call
                        "searching behaviour. For the living, it is one way that some deal with grief for the loss of a loved
                        one." But Leo has his own thoughts on the matter: "I think it's simpler than that. I think there are
                        family ghosts. I think they are something real and powerful that we carry inside us, that without
                        them we're empty, without direction. They steer us, advise us, converse with us daily. They
                        bring the past and the present together. Give us a future, a perspective."

                                    In those few words, Leo describes the scope of this compact, quietly thoughtful, emotionally
                         compelling novel.

                                    This is the third tale concerning the Radey family of Toronto (the others are Shadow of
                          Ashland and A Witness to Life) to take us on both an outward journey and an interior
                          expedition, this time into the heart of the relationship between father and son, living and dead,
                          absent or present. (The one does not necessarily preclude the other -- Leo's late father is
                          more present in his life than Adam's living birth-father is in his.) It takes a special writer to
                          delineate the complexities of blood kinship while maintaining the reader's sympathy for each

                                     The novel climaxes (figuratively and literally) with a pilgrimage by Leo and his wife
                           to an ancient Irish site known as St. Patrick's Bed. Green expertly commingles the mythical
                           past with the hard truths of the present in Leo Nolan's aspiration to be a good father and a
                           good son in this heartfelt novel.

                                      It may not be fashionable, but it sure feels good.

                                (Kevin Kennedy is a Toronto writer and teacher. He is working on his first novel.)