I have not read every book by Roddy Doyle, but only because I was not paying attention and missed some. From the Barrytown Trilogy to this month’s Smile, Roddy Doyle creates characters and stories full of humanity. Even in the midst of struggle and pain, his people smile, crack wise, and lift a pint to life.
Smile confounded me at first. Victor Forde, a recently divorced lesser half of a celebrity couple is discovering pub life to assuage his loneliness. Making friends, or more accurately, experimenting with the skill of friend-making, hanging with the guys at the pub including a boorish former classmate, Eddie Fitzpatrick, whom Forde does not quite remember. Pride keeps him from admitting; it would be too embarrassing.
His divorce and his new acquaintance lead Forde to reminisce. He recalls in loving detail the genesis and history of a happy marriage that ended, perhaps stretched too far by her success and his mediocrity. He also recalls his childhood at the school he attended with Fitzpatrick, a Christian Brothers school where heartwarming memories of singing a mass for a dying teacher in preparation for his funeral mix with memories of teachers who ranged from hapless to horrific.
Smile is one of those stories that turns on itself, bringing into question the reliability of the narrator in a shocking encounter with Fitzpatrick. It questions what is memory and brings everything you have read into question. The final encounter with Fitzpatrick is shocking, perhaps too much so. We go from an interesting, though predictable, narrative of a newly divorced man finding his way on his own to a parallel universe and are left figure out what it all means. Doyle expects a lot of us, but that is something I value.
I received an e-galley of Smile for review from the publisher through Edelweiss.