James D(ouglas) Forman Kirkus Reviews - Essay

Kirkus Reviews

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Forman takes on the troubles in Belfast in this latest sober contemplation of collective suffering and wrong. [In A Fine, Soft Day] the protagonist, a young Catholic teenager named Brian O'Brien, watches helplessly as brother Conor becomes a hardened Revolutionary (or so it seems until the tragic end) and a much younger brother follows him feverishly into the streets. Grania, the strong older sister, is a flaming, marching pacifist; but Forman seems to conclude despairingly that her sort is ineffectual and the fighters hopeless madmen. Forman well conveys the terrors of living under siege. The tension in the house is of a piece with the action on the streets, and the appropriately oppressive atmosphere never lifts completely…. The inevitability of disaster is established at the start with a preview of the final scene, and kept in view through interspersed chapters tracing a machine gun's dirty progress around the world (from My Lai) to fulfill its "Irish destiny." The word "madness" is carved in the gun early on, and there are references elsewhere to Cain and Abel and to a legend of fairy blood, with two streams running red as both sides lose an epic battle. But all of this is a bit heavy, and though Forman's characters are varied and distinct, from the hand-wringing mother to the sinister, violently revolutionary uncle they are simplistically and sometimes insensitively typed. His argument is weakened by its one-sided deploring of Catholic violence: nowhere is the reader tempted or stirred by the patriots' passion. A grim, but distanced assessment.

"Older Fiction: 'A Fine, Soft Day'," in Kirkus Reviews (copyright © 1979 The Kirkus Service, Inc.), Vol. XLVII, No. 2, January 15, 1979, p. 70.