All Our Yesterdays Themes
by Robert B. Parker

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Social Concerns / Themes

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Although Robert Parker has become A famous and wealthy with his Spenser series, he has also published three other works of fiction not strictly crime novels nor featuring Spenser. Wilderness (1979), Love and Glory (1983), and All Our Yesterdays (1994). While the earlier non-Spenser books were modest affairs, All Our Yesterdays is a big, sprawling family-saga, which begins in 1920 and runs to the present and involves three generations of the family's of Conn Sheridan, one time I.R.A. gunman, and Hadley Winslow, wife of a Boston tycoon, who have a brief affair the consequences of which take almost seventy-five years to resolve.

The narrative begins in Ireland during "the troubles," where young and reckless Conn Sheridan, an I.R.A. captain, is wounded during a raid on a country police station and is sent to Dublin to recuperate where he is nursed by Hadley Winslow, whose Irish-American husband is managing a local branch of the banking firm he runs in Boston, Massachusetts. Conn falls in love with Hadley, and they have a brief but rather intense affair before Conn escapes to the United States to avoid capture by the British forces. He flees to Boston and becomes a police officer with the metropolitan force, marries badly and has a child who in turn makes a loveless marriage and also has a son. Conn's grandson becomes the narrator for the contemporary portions of the story. Hadley's offspring also flourish and her granddaughter falls in love with Conn's grandson. The history of both families forms the narrative of the novel.

As with Parker's other fiction, All Our Yesterdays, revolves around issues of loyalty and honor and the search for personal values in a world full of distrust, betrayal, and lack of moral grounding. The eventual marriage between Chris Sheridan and Grace Winslow supplies not only the denouement for the novel but also resolves the continuing tensions between the families. Chris tells the story of their grandparents and parents while he and Grace try to sort our their own problem-ridden relationship. In the process of recounting the tale, Chris lays to rest the ghosts which have haunted both of their families.

In many ways this novel is the generic American story. It traces the ascendancy of a poor, immigrant Irish- Catholic family as it rises in the socioeconomic scale eventually to merge with the established, wealthy predominantly Protestant and Yankee hierarchy. The novel is about how money and power are accumulated in American culture. The rise to power of the Sheridans and the retention of power by the Winslows are presented in unflattering terms — both families have resorted to chicanery and deceit in order to gain their wealth and position — and in the end the sins of the past must be redeemed by the humiliation of Gus Sheridan, who resigned in disgrace from the Boston police force and the suicide of Tom Winslow, who must die for his unnatural sexual desires which have led him to commit murder. By the story's conclusion there is hope that Chris and Grace will be able to put the worst of the past behind them and live their lives differently. Parker's unsentimental examination of the class system and of the ways power is gained and maintained in America provides a scathing critique of modern American life.

Against this background of social history the individual characters of this saga work through their particular failings and successes as human beings. However, it is only at the end of the novel that there is some measure of grace in the lives of the last generation, who seem to be able to realize finally a personal measure of happiness and fulfillment.