Praise for A RIDDLE OF STARS (Zoland Books, Cambridge, MA, 1999)
Robert Taylor, Boston Globe, 11/16/99: Matt Quigley, the likable hero of Pierce Butler’s lyrical novel…grew up in a western Ireland of turf fires and pounding surf…Butler’s realistic novel moves along reflecting glimpses of a Massachusetts seen through a car’s windshield. The automobile symbolizes his relationship to America, but he cannot leave the Old World behind…One may recall John Updike’s Rabbit novels…but to Matt, his dilapidated used car is a species of magic…The mood of A Riddle of Stars is wistful and understated, but it has scenes of substantial drama…Matt’s grease-smeared job in Kendall Square evokes Chaplin on the assembly line in Modern Times…But the Irish scenes are neatly balanced too; the sense of place assumes a significant role, enhanced by Matt’s grandfather’s stories of islands, legends, and historical and mythical kings. It is this world, “presided over by strange unknowable constellations,” that supplies the novel’s title.
Susan Salter Reynolds, Sunday LA Times, 11/21/99: This quiet memoir inside a novel takes a reader by surprise. A young man…sent to a remote spit of land called the Inish, is forced to grow, like a tree around a rock, around a loneliness he cannot shake…The weight of responsibility and the fact of being left form his character. When he leaves, as an adult, to join his American girlfriend in Boston, the loneliness overtakes him, making it impossible to be in love, even though he is in love. “A riddle of stars,” his grandfather tells him is “a riddle only God can answer.” Matt’s memories of an Irish childhood lived wholly outdoors are wild and cinematic, like a scene from The Secret of Roan Inish. Pierce Butler’s novel…is an immigrant’s song.
Lauren Byrne, Irish Voice, 1/5/00: In this impressive novel, Pierce Butler makes sense of the exile’s experience. In a Pontiac Le Mans he’s nicknamed the Monster Matt Quigley explores the highways of Massachusetts…Unable to commit to his girlfriend Lily he succumbs to the lure of the open road…Only the news that Lily’s father Sam is dying curtails Matt’s plan…The details of Sam’s last days offer the reader a rare and strangely comforting view into the process of death, so seldom articulated, its mysteries so often contained behind the sanitized curtain of a hospital bed…In lyrical prose Butler has quantified the heritage of a down-trodden race…In the seamlessly interwoven stories of Matt’s experiences in Boston and his childhood in Kerry, Butler shows how in the end, mere distance is immaterial, but that, as Yeats put it, “the real journey is the soul’s.”
Robert Allen Papinchak, Sunday New York Times Book Review, 3/19/00: Pierce Butler’s novel fervently contrasts the old ways of Ireland with New World notions…Resigned to the strengths of the old legends, Matthew finally understands that the barrenness of the Inish has become the comforting source of his endurance. In this sturdy novel about the haunting nature of memories, we watch as Matthew comes to terms with loss, love, and his own destiny.
Tom Deignan, Irish America, 8/9/00: Butler’s protagonist Matt Quigley is an expatriate in New England, and struggling with American ways. He grew up listening to dark, mythic tales told by his unsentimental grandfather…Only when another patriarch in his life must confront death does Matt seem to balance life’s possibilities with its dangers, in this impressive, lyrical debut.