Malachy McCourt Introduction - Essay

Introduction

Malachy McCourt A Monk Swimming

Malachy McCourt is an Irish-American actor and writer.

Malachy McCourt is an engaging storyteller and "professional Irishman," as one reviewer put it. His novel A Monk Swimming, the title of which is a deformation of the Hail Mary's "blessed are thou amongst women," is a combination of narrative fiction, joke writing and biography. In it McCourt displays his storytelling talents and reveals the source of his material—a bleak, poverty-stricken childhood and the accomplishments and failings of his adult life. McCourt was born in Brooklyn in 1932 to Irish parents, but the family returned to Ireland after the death of Malachy's seven-year-old sister. He is the brother of Frank McCourt, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Angela's Ashes—a bestseller that gave readers touching depictions of Irish poverty. A life of hardship marked by his father's drinking and chronic unemployment left McCourt with a battered sense of self, which he dulled with alcohol from age 11. Nonetheless, with his boisterous charm and way with words, McCourt returned to America in 1952 and went from a longshoreman job to a career as an actor in the theatre in Manhattan's Upper East Side. He co-wrote a stage piece with his more contemplative brother titled A Couple of Blaguards and appeared on television broadcasts such as the Jack Paar Show. He also gained renown among New York society as owner of the city's first singles' club, Malachy's. In A Monk Swimming, McCourt delivers pithy statements such as "there is no difference between the rich and the poor, except poverty," playful deformations of language—as evidenced by the title—and bitingly candid confessions such as "my ambition was to come to America and become a convict, because in prison I'd have shoes, a bed to myself … that no little brothers had pissed on." McCourl's narrative of his experience of the American dream has attracted many readers, but critical commentary on his work's defining features is mixed. A commentator in Kirkus Reviews admitted that "Malachy can spin a yarn and he can pile on the clever euphemisms and circumlocutions of the tavern philosopher with the greatest ease," but in terms of food for thought he is seen to offer little more than "a few tired aperçus." Susan Salter Reynolds qualified A Monk Swimming as "more a tsunami of entertaining, reckless verbiage than a book," and Frank Conroy complained that the book is "an imitation of an American stereotype of Irish," and that the style "sounds like W. C. Fields falling flat." However, Emily Mitchell observed that McCourt's saving grace is his "self-deprecating humor and boisterous love of the mother tongue.