Donal Quinn may be a punk, but he is clever. He fakes a toothache at his trial and is sent to a dentist for relief. He overpowers the dentist and escapes. Billy Sweeny cannot live with the idea of Quinn escaping punishment, so he begins his quest. Sweeny walks the streets of Dublin, hunting for Quinn and plotting what he will do when he finds him.
A salesman for many years, Sweeny knows how to get information he needs from people. He finds Quinn, tracks him, gets to know his habits. He becomes obsessed with watching Quinn; other people notice and attribute it to Sweeny having a girlfriend. When Sweeny takes a vacation, he tells people he will be spending it with the girlfriend they’ve imagined. Instead, he uses the time to prepare his trap for Quinn.
Alternating with the story of Sweeny and Quinn is the journal Sweeny is writing for his daughter in hopes she might someday awaken and read what he has written. Sweeny pulls no punches as he tells the tale of youth and marriage. Sweeny was a faithful husband, but he drank to excess and argued with his wife. After she left him, he quit drinking, but by then it was too late. As years went by, they began to grow closer. But a reconciliation was not to be.
Joseph O’Connor makes the streets of Dublin come alive in The Salesman and creates a sympathetic character whose sometimes bizarre actions seem believable. In the end, despite Sweeny’s flaws and his mistakes, the reader roots for him when even a tiny bit of his life is repaired.