Maroon: Donal agus Jimmy is an amazingly complex story that deftly interweaves three distinct themes; a tender love story of sexual discovery, the debate about Irish Home Rule, and the building of the great passenger steamers at the Belfast Docks. I said amazingly complex because the book is only 73 pages long, but the melding works beautifully.
PD Singer’s novella begins as Donal Gallagher is waiting in line to collect his pay at the Harland and Wolff dockyards in Belfast. Donal is a master carpenter, skilled labor on the ship builder. He creates fittings for the luxury cabins. Normally his wages are enough to send money back to his parents and siblings, but tragedy has struck at home and they need more. He needs to find a roommate.
Salvation arrives in the form of a man two lines over. Jimmy Healy, a boilermaker, also needs to find a room to share. The only problem for Donal is that he has noticed Jimmy for quite a while, in a way that would be more than embarrassing in the extremely religious atmosphere of Ireland in the early 1900s, let alone the testosterone fueled work-place that is the dockyards. Donal knows he’s gay, but there isn’t another soul in Ireland who does.
Jimmy does take the other half of Donal’s rented room, and moves into his life. He also moves into his heart. At last, Jimmy fakes being drunk one night in order to break through Donal’s reserve to explore what they both feel. The love scenes are very touching, in their sense of discovery. Both men know what they want, but don’t really have a clue about what to do. In that time and place, who the hell would they have asked?
This story begins in 1911. The Archduke Ferdinand is still alive and well, and World War I will not start for another 3 years. Ireland in its entirety is still under the dominion of Great Britain, and will be for another 9 years. Irish Home Rule is under heated debate. The Great Irish Potato Famine is 60 years in the past, but the diaspora it left in its wake means that every Irish family has kin in America.
Irish Home Rule is the one that gets them. Jimmy is a boilermaker, which means he’s an engineer, among other things. The Irish path to independence was long and bloody, and the ends of the journey were still drawing blood not all that long ago. But this story takes place at the beginning. Some very hard men come to see Jimmy, wanting him to store guns in the empty boilers. Jimmy puts them off with excuses, but he knows they’ll be back, and they won’t take no for an answer. What can he and Donal do?
The history involved in this story was what really drew me in. Donal and Jimmy manage to keep their relationship secret for a couple of years, but when Irish Home Rule starts heating up, they get sucked in. Jimmy doesn’t have any family, but Donal, and Donal’s big family, makes him vulnerable to pressure. If Donal were threatened, Jimmy would have to give in, and he would start making guns for the men who threaten their happiness. But Jimmy has found an alternative: emigrate to America. The risks involved seem less, but are they?
Escape Rating B+: The author sent me this story, and I started to read it at my computer, thinking I had a sample. Halfway through, I realized that I was hooked, that I had the whole thing, and that I needed to download it to my iPad and find a comfier chair. The amount of stuff packed into this story was amazing!