...[a] quiet masterpiece ... In a simple style that never commits a flutter of extravagance, Sullivan draws us into the lives of the Raffertys and, in the rare miracle of fiction, makes us care about them as if they were our own family ... Indeed, the ferocious discipline of these two sisters is matched only by the author’s. Sullivan never tells too much; she never draws attention to her cleverness; she never succumbs to the temptation of offering us wisdom. She trusts, instead, in the holy power of a humane story told in one lucid sentence after another.
Sullivan lets readers in on these secrets even as most of her characters stay in the dark, elevating the novel above the average family drama. With tenderness and a knack for depicting Irish grandmothers that anybody who has one will appreciate, Sullivan celebrates ordinary people doing their best to live saintly lives.
Although each of the Rafferty children could use a few more contradictory moments, and the narration can become ponderous, Sullivan succeeds in creating a believably complicated, clannish Irish-American family, and the novel’s most engrossing scenes occur when the Raffertys gather in Nora’s kitchen to drink beer, laugh at inside jokes, finger old wounds and puzzle over their dour, conscientious mother. Because it’s Nora, rather than Theresa, who emerges as the novel’s most mysterious character. Its real drama involves her gradual transformation from a shy, unhappy young immigrant to an established matriarch, with a matriarch’s long skein of pride and sorrow — and secrets.