At the next corner, pedalling toward him came an aged postman moving barely fast enough to remain upright.
‘Station Road beach, I do,’ the postman said as though preparing for conversation.
Tony was soon consuming the man’s life tale, and listening lifted him. He felt his spirit lighten, like this stranger was re-igniting what he believed was lost. Maybe these were his people after all, he thought, maybe he was closer to home than he believed: how they danced all over you, sang to you, felt you worthy of their stories, of their trust and time, and seemed not to doubt you’d feel the same for them; how they made light of the hard outer world at every opportunity, and when there was no opportunity how they invented one; they played with what others called suffering until it wasn’t suffering but something essentially good for you, a redeeming purgatory ordained by God. They seemed at one with the mill of living. And as for those he’d called liars the day before, they now seemed in some way saintly; maybe equally saints and liars. As a race, there was no denying it, these people inhabited a realm beyond him, a holy place that he might rise to, this Irishness.
‘Remember now what I told you: go past Macker’s field, bear left into Eamon’s Lane, and at the end take a sharp left and Station Road beach will be staring at you, and may God go with you because I can’t.’
A chance encounter on the platform of a train station hurls an ex-con determined to overcome his past into the troubled orbit of a local beauty with demons of her own and a death wish she doesn’t understand and seems powerless to escape — this is the spark that ignites the plot of “On the Edge of the Loch,” Joseph Eamon Cummins’ taut, richly atmospheric tale of romance and redemption set amid the wild grandeur of Ireland’s Atlantic coast.
It’s September 1993, and Dublin-born expat Tony MacNeill has come to this “stony world of big cliffs and bottomless lochs, mist-shrouded mountains and soft bogs”— to clear his mind of the poison of an American Dream gone wrong. It’s a west country of the imagination, one that seems very much of the movies — of rolling farms, thatched roofs, lazing cattle, of quaint shops, turf fires, ancient castles and lilting brogues — and Tony is more than willing to give himself over to its charms. — “A different sun” shines here than in America, as he sees it, and as he soon will learn: “Time’s different here.”
Of the latter, Tony’s never had much. He was barely in his teens when the MacNeills emigrated. At 17, adrift on the mean streets of Newark, New Jersey, he’d ended up on the wrong side of the law and was condemned to hard time in adult prison. He’s 27 now, recently paroled, and he’s returned to his homeland in hopes of winning back the life that was stolen from him. His quest has taken him to County Mayo, to the coastal village of Aranroe, for a short holiday, to hike and climb for a few days, or that’s the plan.
Then he meets Leonora Quin and his itinerary is magically upended.
But then “Lenny,” as she’s called, will do that to a man. Smart, funny, undeniably alluring, unmistakably, profoundly sad. She’s a heady mix. They’re an unlikely pair, these two, and yet very much alike: they’ve known strange lands, they’ve known violent death, and they bear the scars. Which renders Lenny, for all her beauty, as something of a spectral figure, a soul without peace, given to a kind of ritual haunting of the Aranroe train station, where she comes once a year, every September, every day, to anxiously await the evening train for a mysterious passenger who never arrives. It’s where Tony first lays eyes on her and where, in a single explosive moment, he is smitten.
At its heart “On the Edge of the Loch” is an exploration of hope, the shining possibilities, the harsh limits. Hope is the strand that runs through the lives of almost every character, binding them one to the other, a silvery thread reflecting light in shadow.
Indeed, Aranroe seems largely to subsist on it. “People loving the damaged, the illegitimate, the long dead, even those lost in their own nowheres. People pleading on behalf of others as if for themselves.”
This sense of place will loom larger and larger as the novel drives toward its climax. It will span three decades and as many continents. Geography is a full-blooded character here, a rejuvenating, life-giving force, and Cummins’ gift for describing it, alternately solemn and resplendent, is as cinematic as the sweep of the land itself.
But there is another side to this: the heavy knowledge which Tony bears of just how destructive the wrong place can be, and with Lenny, surely, the danger signs are everywhere. She is a woman of secrets, tragic ones, some of which she is only dimly aware herself. At the same time she has awakened Tony to love, to the possibility of healing, and the more he uncovers of her past the more determined he is to retrieve the scattered pieces of both their lives and rebuild them into a single whole. In Lenny, as in Ireland itself, he is “like a sailor saved, a prodigal forgiven”. He has discovered “a new belongingness taking hold”.
How far is he prepared to go to assure himself of its grasp? Is he willing to stake his life on it?
In probing these questions he’ll learn more about himself than he knew and way more than he bargained for.
Author of Trumped! The Inside Story of the Real Donald Trump (2016)
A Compelling Read!
If you love a story full of raw emotion and fantastic characters, then this is for you.
On the Edge of the Loch by Joseph Eamon Cummins. From start to finish, I was captivated by the story, from the main characters, Lenny and Tony to the locations of Dublin, West of Ireland and America described by the writer in such vivid terms that I felt like I was there. It is a compelling love story, with a backdrop of the complexity of relationships and life experiences. I love the way the writer describes the emotions of the characters, you feel like you are almost part of their souls. At times you think you know where the writer is bringing you and then you realise that you have no clue!
A vivid picture of the human condition . . .
A successful novel works on many levels, and this book's examination of the concept of loss, and its impact upon those who have yet to fully understand how their lives have been affected by it, certainly provides the reader with many layers to ponder.
The book draws upon powerful imagery in diverse geographical locations - rural Ireland, the U.S.A. and the Middle East, and illustrates the profound challenges of situations that can seldom be altered, playing a hand that has been randomly dealt. References to Mweelrea, the enchanting yet foreboding mountain backdrop to many of the chapters set in rural Ireland, subtly reinforce the enormity of the task facing the main characters in their attempts to make sense of their situations, consciously or unconsciously.
Many aspects of human existence are alluded to in this work - from the utter inhumanity of war and hopelessness of incarceration, to unbridled self-sacrifice and commitment to others. The characters who particularly struck me, apart from the two main protagonists (Tony and Lenny) were Leo and Cilla - both of whom display selfless qualities which lift the reader from the sometimes bleak themes which the author examines in depth.
On the Edge of the Loch paints a vivid picture of the human condition. At times it is harrowing, but finishes giving the reader a reason for optimism and hope of redemption. Indeed, the strength of the relationship I had developed with the characters whilst reading Cummins' book has left me wondering what became of them as they embarked upon the next part of their journey after I closed the book . . .
Ely, Cambridgeshire, UK
In the tradition of Thomas Hardy . . . a truly compelling read.
Joseph E. Cummins’ On the Edge of the Loch builds its deeply focused qualities around one seemingly simple concept: Leave the reader wanting more.
And this is exactly what each chapter accomplishes as the plot becomes more complicated with each new psychological twist.
Cummins’ gift does not lie solely in his ability to weave the theme through intricate wording and exquisite character revelation. Just when the reader believes the key will be revealed to understanding what secrets drive the main characters, the author presents yet another layer forcing the reader to re-evaluate the outcome.
What appears at first to be conventional, including perspectives concerning love, moves far beyond cliché with surprising results.
We are not only left wondering what lies beyond the “edge of the loch” with its distinctly Irish flavor; we are invited to delve deeply into the human psyche to evaluate our own motives. Thus, in the tradition of Thomas Hardy, Cummins blends the Irish landscape with psychological intrigue to produce a truly compelling read.
Daniel R. Flinn
Author, Dancing with the Ants
Characters that are living souls, mercurial and unpretentious, in a tapestry of themes. A very memorable tale.
Cummins delivers at a forceful pace the near cursedly indomitable spirit at the very essence of what it is to be Irish: rising again and again no matter how bruised, beaten or weary, through painful longing, humiliating self-doubt, rejection, and finally redemption.
His characters are living souls, from the savage ‘fists up’ jackeens of Ireland’s city streets to the mercurial, earthy and embracing denizens of its rugged coastline.
This ‘hero’s’ journey’ is a tapestry woven from themes jagged and brutal, forgiving and abiding. You can feel the texture of the thoughts and feelings of Cummins’ characters. Above all, it is honest, unpretentious, and unapologetic. A very good read . . . a very memorable tale.
Robert S. Galasso