Oh When the Saints by Peter Money
My mentor was a Beat Poet and he had a peculiar affinity for the ‘strange familiar’. Along Exchequer Street, where I sit under two sound systems, my life—so far—is strange familiar.
Two workers in their reflective vests stand in mid-air. They’re on a riser, of course; forward thinking. And we could all use a lift, especially this decade; maybe every decade, each of our generations.
Across the way a comic rises on the security door. This amuses me because I come from a cartoon background—and in it I’m alien. I taught at The Center for Cartoon Studies and I’m a poet. Primarily a poet. I’m a Californian-Ohio-Vermont-Massachusetts-New York poet who always wanted to write a novel but I never thought I would.
The Golden Gate Bridge faces me a bit like a taunt. ‘Americans Holidays’, are you? Yes, yes, yes: ‘the possibilities are endless’. Having crossed that bridge several times, so to speak, I know I’m not alone any longer. (Funny thing, we want to think we’re the only ones but we complain if we’re too alone.) In Dublin, this week, To launch my first official novel, I hear many American accents. And it was the same in Galway. Being alone in a big population is part of what my novel is about.
A smart couple next to me lean into a laptop and I think she’s in love. Something like reggae permeates the quick eats bar where I’m lingering—something Joyce and I know some things about—and the workers in front of me, meanwhile, have descended from their lift: the lift itself now rising like a tease. This too is what the novel is about. Oh, didn’t I tell you the name yet? Oh When The Saints. You know, first time novelist here, I’m bound to forget something.
I said ‘Joyce’ because—well, Nuala O’Connor mentioned the golden ox first, in an endorsement for me (‘ramble’—true, I am, and the story that began in California, by birth and the grape vine, and Rathmines—look at those two side by side: Califookinfornia next to RathMINES!)—just because where I write to you now there’s a framed (and *screwed*) quotation beneath glass from Dubliners:
‘The girl brought him a plate of grocer’s hot peas…Would he never get a good job?’
This is the story of my life, and it’s the story of the main character in Oh When The Saints, in a sense. (It’s all their stories, since they’re in their early twenties.)
In James Joyce’s world (this world just the same now), his protagonist is just over the threshold: already thirty, about to turn thirty-one. Mine is twenty about to be twenty-one. And, if you don’t mind one more piece of strange familiar affinity, Joyce’s character in Dubliners is said to have been born in November.
I say this now because the day, though it is emerging, is an awful lot like November’s. Would you know, I was born in November—just over that bridge, the orange one, the stripe in the Irish flag, we call gold; facing me now.
It’s all facing me now. The strange familiar is a sort of homecoming…. You could say I’ve already been through the awakening. But I’m not saved. None of us are, if you read literature—if you love, laugh, honour one another and dance. —I like that ‘Irish’ way of writing honour. We don’t include the ‘our’ back in the States.
Wait! Did I just go rogue? Political? …you have the most fantastic president, Michael D Higgins. Why? Let’s agree it’s not just the poetry. But I’ve still got Novembers to explain (see, I tie it in now, because our elections in the States are in November).
I am not the only American in Ireland (duh). Some have good jobs. Some even became famous in Ireland. Some, like Joyce above me, had to move out to move to fame from infamy.
‘He was tired of knocking about…of shifts, and intrigues.’ Buddy Joyce, again. Well, that applies here—and it’s funny that I hadn’t connected with this story before now. Yea, it took sitting down with my porridge at the high wood counter facing the comers and goers of Exchequer Street, pecking this to you by one finger on a phone because, strange familiar, I’m a storied traveler without a country, without place or even a proper keyboard.
The quotation beside me here is so ripe it must have been engineered. ‘In his imagination he beheld the pair of lovers….’
Ok, confession: I believe in the everlaster, not the ever after but the everlaster. There’s an everlasting lingering of Saints and strangers; sometimes one becomes both, or one transforms to the other. My protagonist believes in the hand that holds the chalk that writes the word. He believes in human skin, and in the humanity of his friends: students, a soldier, a library assistant, a future city clerical worker (and former hard-ass, punk).
My character in Oh When The Saints—a kind of ‘Walkabout’ or ‘longer Araby’ I’ve said to people in an overt and immodest way to intrigue them—also believes in spirits, the dead, and in spirit animals…like the rhino in the River Dodder.
I wrote this novel (I’ve started others, and I published a novella, Che, that’s very collage-y—intentionally) because, like me, my buddy, my school buddy, was born in November and—missing him, and wondering for years what became of him…I, also always a boy before the man, a kid out of sorts in job or community, maybe, just maybe, seeks (like we all do), a saint to help carry him on.
(c) Peter Money
About Oh When the Saints:
Hyper-aware Denny, a young American in Dublin, makes his tentative way towards adulthood with a supporting cast of oddball friends. Denny hopes for a big love, the ‘girl named Ireland’. Akin to a Joycean ramble, Oh When the Saints follows a sensitive boy on the reluctant verge of manhood, who cannot help endlessly analysing his own – and others’ – place in the stream of life. His heart is ‘a sack of air’ until he meets a trainee librarian with ambitions to be wild. This is a strange, elliptical novel of ideas, told in punchy, poetic prose; Peter Money’s is a vivid, fresh and welcome voice.
Order your copy online here.