Akin to Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio, Tom Sheehan's hometown of Saugus, Mass., plays a critical role in his brilliant memoir, A Collection of Friends. Whether it's down by the great wall of manure in a field in West Peabody, or the frozen expanse of Lily Pond -- a hockey player's dream -- a past generation's landmarks (long gone but for these venerable pages) live and breathe and stink and steam.
Combined with their strong sense of place, these tales are peopled by unforgettable characters: the no-nonsense father; the bully who must be beaten; the hero who gives his life for his fellows; as well as the unexpected and inexplicable friend. And though many of these tales have the feeling of being narrated by someone looking back from a great distance, this is no fault. Sheehan was born just before the Great Depression of the 1930s and, as the opening line of this memoir states, "Ears I had, and eyes, and I used them well": A truth borne out by the wonderful sentences and stories that follow.
With age, if you're lucky, comes wisdom and the ability to judge events with a broader, less reactive, sense. Sheehan's one of these lucky ones. Like 1968 Bordeaux that's been lost in the cellar, age has only improved his bouquet. In his sure hands, the inherent melancholy in these narratives never sinks into easy self indulgence, or maudlin self pity. Rather, these stories are soaring celebrations, re-creating the magic of the genesis of their own creation.
Breaking out into the openness at The Point, Arctic bareness the challenge, a white almost never-ending expanse leaped ahead. The wind howled in our ears and at our backs, and we knew the practical certitude that our blades would not find a crack in the ice. And we faced the ultimate transition...
To be candid, a book like this is difficult to review. The reviewer wants to scream its praises, but -- because the glut of quotable, beautiful passages is overwhelming -- he doesn't know where to begin. And when he does pick something to quote, he doesn't know where to stop, and so ends it with a damnable cop out of an ellipsis. Plus, there is the fact that there is nothing to criticize, which, by itself, is enough to give a so-called critic fits! All he can do, then, is throw up his hands and start quoting scripture.
This is my commandment: love one another, as I have loved you. There is no greater love
than this, that someone should lay down his life for his friends.
Tom Sheehan has poured his life into a book, and filled it with the love he has given and received growing up and growing old on this earth. In the spell-binding story "It's All in the Maul" he writes: "Spending time with a friend does not have to pass away from being." Of this, A Collection of Friends is proof.