book club: ‘the heart’s invisible furies’.

by Michael King

“Want to read in the park?” my friend asked me, and my yes was emphatic. I rolled up my favorite blanket, tucked it away in my bag, and ordered a coffee for pickup on the way. About twenty blocks into my walk, it dawned on me: I’d left my book behind in my apartment. Sighing, I texted my friend, “I forgot my book. Got anything for me to read?”

As he descended down the steps of his apartment building in Hell’s Kitchen, his face had a wry grin. “Have you read this?” he asked, handing me The Heart’s Invisible Furies. I shook my head, and he smiled. “It’s so sad, but so funny, in this specifically Irish way. You are going to love it.”

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The Heart’s Invisible Furies opens in a church building in a small village in Ireland. There, a teenaged girl is being publicly rebuked for her pregnancy, after which she arrives home to find her belongings outside the front door. Head held high, shaking her head at the unfairness of her world, she boards a bus to Dublin, where a chance encounter with a stranger changes everything.

“Long before we discovered that he had fathered two children by two different women, one in Drimoleague and one in Clonakilty, Father James Monroe stood on the altar of the Church of Our Lady, Star of the Sea, in the parish of Goleen, West Cork, and denounced my mother as a whore.”

The narrator in The Heart’s Invisible Furies is Cyril Avery, the child produced from the text’s early pages. His story is shared in chapters, each taking places seven years following the prior chapter. As the first chapter ends, Cyril’s mother in labor and bringing him into the world, the second chapter picks up, and we meet Cyril’s adoptive parents. There’s a jarring effect to this; at the beginning of each chapter, I found myself wondering what became of some of the characters I’d just fallen in love with.

As Cyril’s story moves forward, however, old characters weave themselves back in the narrative in surprising ways. As he discovers himself, a child adopted by wealthy, if unconventional, parents, he grapples with the journey of being ill-fit for the rigid world around him.

“It was a difficult time to be Irish, a difficult time to be twenty-one years of age and a difficult time to be a man who was attracted to other men. To be all three simultaneously required a level of subterfuge and guile that felt contrary to my nature.”

At its core, The Heart’s Invisible Furies is an examination of a life –– the way in which people appear, strangers at first and then vital sources of joy and pain, and are lost to us. In this story, there is violence, grief, failure, abandonment, an also there is humor, longing, love, and beginning anew. Humanity is under the narrator’s microscope, always explored with a bit of comical irreverence.

“But for all that we had, for all the luxury to which we were accustomed, we were both denied love, and this deficiency would be scorched into our futures lives like an ill-considered tattoo inscribed on the buttocks after a drunken night out, leading each of us inevitably toward isolation and disaster.”

After I posted a picture of the park on a night reading, I heard from several people who’d read this text before me. They each acknowledged that they’d loved it, and I trusted it would stick with me long after I finished it. The Heart’s Invisible Furies offers a gentle window unto all of us, our humanity, our cruelty toward the people we deem outsiders, our cruelty toward the people we are trying to love, and the ways in which we keep going after enduring grief. Told over seventy years, Cyril’s story features so much beginning again, and again, and again.