Redemption Falls: A Novel

Image of Redemption Falls: A Novel
Release Date: 
June 9, 2008
Free Press
Reviewed by: 

Redemption Falls is part two of Joseph O’Connor’s Irish American trilogy. It is a fictional post-Civil War tale set in the west, most likely Montana.

With the noise of Civil War battle long gone, the author claims Redemption Falls is a story of war. Initially he introduces the reader to a barefoot girl in a tattered dress walking north from Louisiana across devastated country looking for her lost pre-teen brother. As he takes her on a fourteen-hundred-mile journey, the author warns us that his is a tale that is “multifaceted and noisy, with jostling voices and perspectives.” He will deliver on this promise.

In the process he packs the book with what he calls “love poems, folk songs, and balladry, sometimes telling the story, at other times distorting it. There are photographs too, of an empty land; but their ghosts can still be seen.”

President Lincoln appoints General James O’Keeffe governor of the Mountain Territory. An escapee from a British prison in Ireland, O’Keeffe joins the tens of thousands of Irish immigrants who fight in the Civil War. Much of this tale is about Governor O’Keeffe, the most famous citizen of the mythical town of Redemption Falls. Haunted by the death of the soldiers he sent to die, he becomes a sullen drunk who neglects his childless wife Lucia. They sleep in separate rooms, a habit the Governor calls “a Catholic thing.”

O’Keeffe discovers an abandoned urchin, Jeremiah Mooney. He brings the boy into his unhappy and unfinished log house in Redemption Falls. Meanwhile Eliza Mooney continues her journey in search of a brother she calls, Jiddo. As the author follows Eliza on this solitary search, he describes the mournful scene of Confederate soldiers looking for the remains of their pre-war homes and lives. The warfare has ended for them but the battle continues between veterans of both north and south that flooded the frontier.

Redemption Falls is a mournful tale. And with many characters and multiple plots, it is not an easy read. But if the reader sticks with it, the story—with all its twists and turns—will come together.