Monday, July 12, 2010

Cannonball Review #4 The Divine Ryans by Wayne Johnston

The Divine Ryans follows the story of Draper Doyle Ryan, the youngest member of a once prominent family in Canada. The Ryans are known as "Divine" in their town in Newfoundland due to the high number of nuns and priests in the family. The other members of the family run the town newspaper and the funeral home.

Draper Doyle is coming to terms with his father's death in while trapped in a family of oddballs. His mother is down for the count, allowing his Aunt Phil and Uncle Seymour to decide what happens to Draper Doyle. This includes Aunt Phil putting is urine stained underwear on the bullietn board for all of the family to see as a sort of bizarro punishment, and Uncle Seymour forcing him to join his "Number," a troupe of boys who sing, dance and box other good Catholic boys to the glory of God...and Uncle Seymour. Since Draper Doyle can do none of the three, and habitually messes the underpants, he's something of an outcast. He's even more so due to the strange dreams that mesh his naked mother and naked sister into a monster named Momary (Mom and Mary) who is always after him. Oh, and he's seeing his dead father everywhere.

This story has won many awards and, according to Wikipedia, has been made into a movie. I can't imagine how that worked out. The book really has too many elements going on to focus on any one story line. As a result, I never felt compassion or closeness with any of the numerous characters. In addition to the things stated in the previous paragraph, there is a crazed hockey rivalry between the Ryans and a neighboring family that involves calling and hanging up on one another when "their" team scores. There is a side note about how the mother is being looked down upon by her deceased husband's family, and her struggles to cope with the father's death and take charge of her own family. The Catholic priest uncles somehow come across as really creepy and intimidating, like they might harm you. These things all boil down to a bunch of mess that is somehow solved by a hallucination involving Momary and the dead father. And their is another uncle upstairs who is also strange, but in a way that runs contrary to the rest of the family. Too bad the whole book isn't about him.

I guess nothing says family like incest-dominated dreams, tormenting youngsters and ghosties. It's hard to even root for Draper Doyle, or anyone in the family for that matter, since their oddities leave no room for charm or sympathy.

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