Days Without End

Terrific new novel by Sebastian Barry, Days Without End:

In this brief business of existence, he explains, “we have our store of days and we spend them like forgetful drunkards.” Atrocities come and go, love flourishes where it can, and justice turns out to be fickle, for the wicked and the innocent are punished alike. With uncommon delicacy, Barry reminds us that individual humans buzz about the land like mosquitoes: causing mischief, dying, being born, forgetting. Our recompense comes in those private moments when “love laughs at history a little.”
Barry’s business extends beyond intense and visceral description, though that persists through a narrative that eventually encompasses the American civil war as well as increasingly complex interactions with indigenous communities. It also captures the development of Thomas and John’s relationship, the men’s sexual attraction to one another announced early in the novel by the simple, paragraph-long sentence: “And then we quietly fucked and then we slept.” What makes this strand of storyline unexpected is that it ushers in an exploration of gender fluidity and a redefinition of family that seems to scream anachronism but is nonetheless convincing.
Barry’s prose can take brilliant turns without sounding implausible coming out of Thomas’s mouth. A mordant vein of comedy runs through the book as Thomas recounts his wild swings of fortune. Deadly storms, attempted robberies and financial panics — “The bottom was always falling out of something in America far as I could see” — are all part of the picture. By the novel’s end, the verdict the lovers reach on the cruelties they’ve endured and inflicted is sobering: “Everything bad gets shot at in America . . . and everything good too.”

Reviews herehere and here