With unreliable memories and scraps of photographs as his only clues, Conor Lyons follows in the tracks of his father, a rootless photographer, as he moved from war-torn Spain, to the barren plains of Mexico, where he met and married Conor's mother, to the American West, and finally back to Ireland, where the marriage and the story reach their heartrending climax. As the narratives of Conor's quest and his parents' lives twine and untwine, Colum McCann creates in Songdogs a mesmerizing evocation of the gulf between memory and imagination, love and loss, past and present.
Irish writer McCann's first novel is a powerful, sometimes mesmerizing commentary on the nature of family and identity, memory and loss. The story opens with 23-year-old narrator Conor Lyons, just returned to Ireland after a five-year trip abroad, spying on his father fly-fishing in a polluted river. The narrative goes on to detail the young man's week-long visit home, a sojourn that proves important primarily in how it relates to, and evokes, the past--beginning with a reconstruction of the father's life as a photographer and adventurer wandering first through war-wracked Spain and then through Mexico, where he meets and marries Conor's mother. The couple moves to the U.S. and on to Ireland, where the narrator is born. Conor's parents have a turbulent marriage, ending in the mother's mysterious disappearance when Conor is 12; it was to retrace his parents' travels, hoping to find his missing mother, that Conor left his homeland. Focusing on remembrance, McCann links events by mood as much as by date, employing prose of a poetic logic and musical cadence that binds transitions of character, time and place into a cogent melody and pattern. Toward novel's end, we begin to see that Conor's search for his mother in the territory of the past is as futile as his father's quest for a giant fish in a dead river. In a moving climax, the author illustrates that it is the quest for, rather than the attainment of, personal grails that defines and redeems us as individuals.