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Here They Come By Yannick Murphy

Falling In and Out, Together

Often times, young characters in novels are given one of two voices: the voice of a smart-mouthed comedian or the voice of a wise, pure and enlightened young adult. Either way, these characters usually serve to discredit or make a fool of bad acting grown-ups. Yannick Murphy’s characters in Here They Come thankfully do not fall in either of these traps. This is a tight, fast-moving story, almost wholly devoid of judgmental narration or overtly sensitive treatment of the behavior of children.

The story, told mainly through the point of view of the youngest daughter, who is never assigned a name in the book, weaves the reader through her greasy home which is gasping under the weight of trash that is rarely taken out, up the walls of the bedrooms that do not reach the ceiling, down the elevator shaft complete with a drunken attendant and out into the world made up of hot dog vendors as smarmy as the food they serve, exasperated teachers from the girls’ school and drunk homeless men wandering in and out of their lives. The characters throughout can be delusional and cruel but also frightened and as fiercely loyal as the young girl we follow through the novel.

Set in the grimy New York City of the 70s, Here They Come ties together an unraveled family of three girls, a suicidal older brother, a debt-ridden, dead-beat dad and his mistress, “the slut". The children live with their mother, an exceptionally complex and tragic woman. We see her deftly described with deep regret and shame, but at the same time this young girl portrays her mother with great pride and a tender love for her family. Rounding out the cast is the protagonist’s grandmother who, after coming to live with the family in her final days, ends up tied to a chair with bathrobe ropes as she extols the virtues of the family’s make believe past in French, a language her granddaughters were all to eager to tell her they did not understand.

Throughout most of the novel the main character and her family spend their time looking for their missing father or lament over a failed husband or lilt hopelessly into isolation over being the discarded for the "slut" girlfriend. Each person’s story rolls around each other as family member’s lives tend to do -- they interact like ices cubes melting in a cocktail, touching only because they are near each other or perhaps they cling to each other because they are made from the same material. The reason for their actions seems secondary though the characters of Murphy’s novel do not act in sweeping dramatic actions, they simply keep moving but not necessarily forward, just away from where they were before.

Murphy has sprinkled some gorgeous sentences throughout the story and gifted her characters with lovely and biting dialog, but she has also masterfully placed her characters in rich and at times, toxic settings. Her descriptions of place are visceral and occasionally surreal. From the frozen water being broken in the toilet bowl in winter to the final scenes in a cabin, furry with mold and overgrowth; the landscapes of this book crawl all over your skin as you read.

The language although often sharp and fast paced could also be poetic and dreamy, especially as the novel comes to a close. Murphy slowly takes the characters away from the city and places them in a haunting and strange cabin in the overgrown woods of upstate New York. All of the rage and mistakes and failures that make up the story ooze away from everyone as the characters sink (quite literally for some) into a safer place, or at the very least they sink into a temporarily safer way to survive, Even “the slut”, who by the book’s end has almost become an affectionate term, exits the novel in a distant and poetic point of view. It is a departure. A feeling like the end is near.

Just as our protagonist walks backwards away from John the hot dog vendor at the end of the novel, the reader spends the last few chapters walking away from the tightness of the voice that has carried the story to this point. In the end, we leave the characters where we found them, in New York, in the apartment, with father somewhere else, with trash and noise and drinking and loneliness and love, each of them in their own skin yet near each other either in thoughts or bodies, always.

Here They Come by Yannick Murphy
McSweeney’s Books
Hardcover, $22; Paperback, $13
ISBN: 1-932416-50-1
240 pages