The Other Side traces an Irish American family, the MacNamaras, through five generations, from the “old sod” to “the other side,” as the Irish called America. Framed by the events of one day, August 14, 1985, the story spans ninety years, weaving the memories of various family members throughout to tell the tale. The book consists of five sections: The first and last parts introduce the family members and set the scene in the present; the second relates Ellen MacNamara’s memories of her life; the third explores the lives of second-, third-and fourth-generation MacNamaras; and the fourth recounts the past from Vincent’s point of view.
The novel opens as Vincent MacNamara recalls the night some ten months earlier when his wife Ellen, ninety years old and cruelly debilitated from a series of strokes, rises from her bed and strikes out at him in a senseless rage. She knocks him down, breaking his hip and leaving him helpless as she wanders into the street in her nightclothes. Vincent, who summons help by hurling family heirlooms through the window, spends ten months in a rest home recuperating, while Ellen continues to fluctuate between rage, fear, and sleep under the care of a domineering nurse at home. The story returns to the present as the family gathers to celebrate Vincent’s return from the nursing home.
As Ellen drifts closer to death, her memories of the past become stronger than her grip on the present, and she relives her life. Her idyllic existence as the only child of a beautiful mother and handsome, successful father degenerates into a nightmare as her mother is transformed by a series of miscarriages and stillbirths into a fat, gibbering madwoman while her father takes up...
(The entire section is 708 words.)