Picks and Pans Review: Wild Decembers

updated 05/01/2000 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/01/2000 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Edna O'Brien

In western Ireland, the setting of O'Brien's latest novel, fields mean more than fields, and land disputes are considered almost a form of sport. Her distantly related protagonists Mick Bugler and Joseph Brennan, she writes, are "warring sons of warring sons" whose families have been battling over land for generations. Bugler, newly engaged, has returned from Australia to work a farm he has inherited, and Joseph views him as an interloper out to grab everything in sight, including Breege, Joseph's younger sister. (Comic relief is provided by a raucous bunch of local eccentrics who stand ever ready to do a neighbor a bad turn.)

Although the story's ending seems foreordained, there are few writers today who can capture the beauty and harshness of Irish rural life—and at the same time plumb the nether regions of the human heart—quite the way O'Brien can. (Houghton Mifflin, $24)

Bottom Line: Wild Irish rows

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