I am always drawn to books centered on family drama (I think this stems from reading Flowers in the Attic in sixth grade… but that’s another story entirely). I think it’s fascinating to examine people who have grown up together as they carry their relationships into adulthood. Harryman does a beautiful job of weaving memories and flashbacks into the present narrative, giving us, the readers, glimpses into the past. This allows us to better understand why these family members behave and interact as they do.
At the center of this novel is the character of Patrick, “Paddy” O’Shea. The O’Shea children each remember their deceased father in different ways, but it is Flynn’s memory of Paddy, as a larger-than-life hero, that stands out as the strongest of the bunch. Flynn’s version of her father also seems to match up with the version of Paddy presented at O’Shea’s, the family restaurant and bar. It’s interesting and sad to read about a family who has built their livelihood on a ghost, banking on nostalgia.
As is the case with a story that follows multiple main characters, I was worried about getting bogged down with too many storylines or getting stuck reading about a few characters that I despised. However, I found each member of the O’Shea family to be unique and equally worth my attention. Most compelling, I believe, were the characters of Maeve, a sister who presents herself in one way but lives her life another way, and Oona, a matriarch struggling with old age and silent grief.
While Flynn seems to be the main character here, I enjoyed reading this more as an ensemble piece, with each O’Shea family member adding something intriguing to the story’s mosaic. Here we have a portrait of a family clinging to the past, but forced to face the changes of the future.
At 304 pages, I read Here Among Us fairly quickly. I imagine it would be a lovely book to read on a commute. I felt transported to Maeve’s kitchen table, where I could drink wine with Flynn. I could almost smell the beer and hearty food at O’Shea’s. I felt the cold winter air in the park, where the O’Shea children relive a painful memory. It’s a novel full of sensory details, and one that transports you to a certain time and place.
The one gripe I had with the story was a hastily thrown-in storyline dealing with a romance between old acquaintances. While some of the romantic relationships were very important to the story and added to it as a whole, I did not feel that this particular one felt realistic or necessary to the story. I was much more interested in the family relationships and reconciliation between family members.