In this brief set, Frank and mandolin player Matt Nasir (he’s only been playing it for 6 months) blast through 3 of his rockingest folk songs. “Recovery,” “The Way I Tend to Be,” (with a very funny lead story) and a rousing mandolin solo-filled and a (reluctant) NPR audience singalong. of the great “Photosynthesis.” I imagine it was quite loud in their offices that day.
Turner is fantastic live—he’s personable and funny and even more so in this intimate setting. It’s a wonderful set.
[READ: August 23, 2013] The Van
This is the final book in the “Barrytown Trilogy” (except for the new one coming out next year). Whereas The Snapper was tied to The Commitments by virtue of it being the same family, The Van is tied to The Snapper because it follows the same guy—Jimmy Rabbitte Sr.
It’s 1990 (a few years after The Snapper because the baby from that book is now talking and mobile) and like many older people in Ireland, Jimmy Sr. has been laid off. The first third of the book looks at life on the dole in Ireland—skimpy Christmas presents and getting handouts from your son. And yet there’s always money for a pint or two—so Jimmy still gets to hang out with his mates at the pub a few nights a week. He also goes out with the baby from time to time and occupies himself in various ways (pitch n putt). There’s a lot of humor and silliness in this section–especially within the family when the twin girls start getting older and even cheekier. And the focal point is the World Cup—because Ireland is actually going to be in it this year—Italia ’90!
And the Jimmy’s mate Bimbo gets laid off. And that’s where the titular van comes in (over 100 pages into the story). Bimbo is crushed to be laid off, but Jimmy is a little pleased. He’s not happy that Bimbo is laid off, but he is happy that he has someone to waste the day with. They go golfing together (and win a prize or two) and they do their best trying to stay happy. But they’ve noticed that the fish and chips van that used to be parked outside of the bar is no longer there. It’s a sad state of affairs when you’re drunk and hungry at midnight and can’t get a fish n chips.
And that’s when their friend Bertie (who can get anything for anyone) comes through on Bimbo’s half serious question–could Bertie get him a chipper van? Bertie finds one—an unholy filthy mess of a thing with no engine. And Bimbo uses his redundancy money, £800, to buy the mess. Jimmy is appalled until Bimbo starts talking about the two of them being partners—working together to makes some money and sell chips to their drunken mates and—even better—to the punters who are enjoying the World Cup! And suddenly it seems like a real idea.
The scenes where Jimmy and Bimbo and their wives are testing recipes is very funny indeed. And it’s nice to see everyone with something to look forward to. The sections where they are cleaning the van are also very funny indeed.
And, the part where Ireland gets into the World Cup (and does surprisingly well) are great great fun. Seeing the men in the pubs jump up and down and hug each other is surprisingly touching. The reveling and joy—the tears when they actually beat Romania on penalties and movie into the quarterfinals. They are riding the high of vicitory—selling bucket loads of chips and fish and burgers and everything. It was a great time and they were making a lot of money. “And then [Ireland] got beaten by the Italians and that was the end of that.”
By the second third of the book, you know that things can’t end well. They simply can’t. Things are straining between them, and you realize that there’s no way this story can just end with them happily working in the van forever. Something has got to break.
And surprisingly, you realize that Jimmy Sr. is kind of a prick. (Speaking of pricks, the joke about Eamon Dunphy is hilarious—even if you don’t know who he is, it’s great joke). In The Snapper Jimmy is a great da and a good husband. He’s a funny, cheeky guy. In The Van he has become a bit darker. It may be the lay off, it may be a midlife crisis, it may be his nascent personality coming through. But whatever it is, he’s unhappy. He’s unhappy that Bimbo (who used to just follow Jimmy) is the “owner” of the van and that he himself is not really a partner—that Bimbo’s wife has more say than he does. And he starts raising stink about minor things.
More alarming, we also see Jimmy Sr checking out women around town. His wife is a wonderful woman (who is studying to get her diploma) and even gives him the occasional ride, yet Jimmy Is unsatisfied. Not that he’d do anything about it—or maybe he would. But the point is that Jimmy starts acting the prick. And it’s not funny anymore.
So you know it’s going to end badly—but how is it going to end? Will Jimmy break up the business? Will Bimbo get sick of the insubordination? Or will outside forces bring things to a head.
Even as the story is winding down and things are going from bad to worse, there’s still a lot of humor in the book—Doyle remains a very funny writer. But you can tell from the setting and the economy and even the final line of the book that Doyle is looking to get a bit more serious—more dramatic. Jimmy Jr. is thinking about getting married, Les has moved to England after getting in a lot of trouble locally (we don’t actually see him or hear from him through the whole book). And while Jimmy knows and even likes the youths who are cheeky, there are some youths who just seem dead inside–sniffing glue and throwing things at the van not for a laugh, but just to do it. Doyle is definitely exploring darker themes–and later books would explore t hem much further.