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ALL IN THE FAMILY

ALL IN THE FAMILY by Edwin O'Connor, Atlantic-Little Brown, 434 pp. $6.95.

A campaign manager describing a politically active professor:

"'I'll tell you just what he is," Phil said, "He's a waste of time...I thought he packed a little weight with the others. Well, he does. But not enough. Not enough, for example, to justify calling me every other night around one in the morning to tell me what he expects of Charles [the candidate], on the basis of his own keen analysis of Austria before Dollfuss. The hours I've spent listening to that chucklehead outline a strategy which would be just swell if only Consolo [the incumbent governor] were Franz Josef!...I'd rather spend my time chewing the fat with One-Eyed Danny Geegan of the Police Athletic League. At least I'm sure we got his vote. For all I know charming Elli [the professor's wife] wrote in one for Leopold Figl."

Edwin O'Connor's first great novel, The Last Hurrah, was a portrait of a type of politics that died in Boston about 15 years ago. Ever since The Last Hurrah appeared in 1956, people have been expecting O'Connor to produce a novel on the style of the politics that's now practiced in Massachusetts. All in the Family, his latest book, is that novel.

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But All in the Famliy is not merely a sequel to The Last Hurrah. It's O'Connor's most thoughtful and most successful attempt yet in dealing with the tensions of the Irish-American family. It's also very funny.

O'Connor has an exact ear for the boisterous and outrageous language that the Boston Irish use and his caricatures of prominent Bostonians, especially the one of a certain currently popular Lady Politician, "a great grotesque woman with a huge marshmallow face and a tiny bright red mouth," are subtle and droll.

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The Kinsellas, whose family troubles are at the base of the book, are not, however, the Kennedys-in-caricature. The Kinsellas resemble the Kennedys only as much as they resemble any one of the important Irish political families of Massachusetts such as the McCormacks, the Tobins, the McDonoughs, the Buckleys, the Harringtons, or the Sullivans.

Loyalty

Like most Irish-American families, the Kinsellas are marked by an incredibly strong sense of family loyalty. They'll argue and fight for ages with each other, but the world and even close friends never even sense disagreement since the arguing is all in the family. The two generations of Kinsellas who are in this novel are all native Americans, but significantly, they seem to be happiest when in Ireland. A large part of Family is set in Ireland, if only to emphasize the dominance of the Irish concept of family over Jimmy Kinsella and his three young sons, James, Philip, and Charles.

Nor are the Kinsellas a bunch of greenhorns. Monied and well-established, Jimmy Kinsella expects each of his sons to fulfill the American dream and be ambitious and successful.

Irish-American Conflict

Essentially, All in the Family deals with the conflict between the American idea of individualism and the Irish idea of the solid family. The occasion for the conflict is the chaotic world of Massachusetts politics in the late 1950's and early 60's. In the 30's and 40's, Massachusetts politics were squalid, sordid, and petty--primarily used as path for personal advancement, much like politics in any other state. But Catholicism with its doctrine of the resourceful steward ("to whom much is given, much is expected") and Puritanism with its sense of mission (John Winthrop's words when founding Boston, "We shall be as a city upon a hill," are plastered all over public buildings) met in the minds of some of the Boston Irish. It was this type of thinking, plus the love of an uproarious battle that prompted affluent, well-educated families like the Kinsellas to offer one of their own as a candidate for public office. Phil Kinsella, the brother of the Chosen One, Charles, was once asked why his brother was running for mayor.

'Just for kicks?' [a cousin asks] 'Well, kicks and,' he said more soberly. 'A little principle got mixed up in it somewhere--I tried to stop it, but it did. You see, I know the wicked flourish and all that; what kills me is the really crummy grade of wicked who flourish around here. This gang of shanty clowns has been playing the city like a slot machine for years. You can't sit still for that forever, can you? It's humiliating. It's like being goosed by the garbage man every day!"

Throw the Bums Out

For some, the desire to take politics away from the wicked became a passion and the Kinsellas were successful at it; first, the mayoralty and then the governorship was theirs. Two of the brothers, however, have a disagreement about the way in which the state is being run. The disagreement becomes semi-public, and, then, because of the paths each takes, dangerous to the safety of the family.

O'Connor's resolution of the crisis is amazing and somewhat frightening. Old Jimmy Kinsella is left raving, "What the hell has happened? What the hell has happened to my family?"

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