The Nightingales of Troy
This set of linked stories, set mostly in Watervliet and Troy, New York, follows female members of a family over almost a century. In 1908, we meet Mamie Flynn Garrahan, a hard-working, not-well young woman with a growing family and whose sister-in-law feels herself far above the daily toil Mamie faces. Eleven years later, Peg Flynn, Mamie’s mother, appears, a strong-willed, plain-speaking widow who is done with men, or so she thinks until she realizes that living with her son and his wife may be a burden to them. Mamie’s daughters feature in a number of stories, set during Prohibition, the Depression, and just after WWII. We meet Ruth, daughter of Annie Garrahan, both in her young teen years when she is entranced by the Beatles, and again when older, an Assistant Professor of American Literature and Imaginative Writing besieged by a very odd graduate student who runs his chastity belt through her dishwasher.
And the Nightingales of the title? When a priest named Jolley, whose three penchants are the river, the theater, and strong drink, was rescued from drowning in the Hudson River by Annie Garrahan, a nurse, he is determined to put on a water ballet celebrating life-saving nurses such as Florence Nightingale.
The dialogue strives to fit the period, helping to situate the stories. For those familiar with the Troy area, there is the pleasure of recognizing places and businesses (well, for those of a certain age). But for everyone else, the characters take center stage, grab hold, and pull you along for the century-long ride.