Saturday Edition Evening News*
(New Glasgow, N.S.)
20-04-02

*Appeared as Literary Feature with cover photo

The Confessions of Nipper Mooney
By Rosalie MacEachern

Meet Nipper Mooney, a boy growing up in rural Newfoundland in the 1950s and 60s, stolen briefly by the fairies on the day his father died.

The Confessions of Nipper Mooney (Killick Press, $19.95) is playwright Ed Kavanagh’s first book. In it he creates a wonderfully curious and sensitive boy who grows up contemplating life’s mysteries, deciding what to incorporate and what to discard on the way to manhood. The book’s beguiling cover photo by Ned Pratt portrays a young boy holding a dragonfly in cupped hands with the light and screen pattern of a confessional playing across his face.

Nipper owes his name to his small size at birth. His mother determined he was to be called Nicholas, "a name with the proper blend of dignity and flair: a name befitting a businessman or politician, even a movie star or a priest."

But it was Nipper his father conferred on him and Nipper that stuck when he was taken home to the Irish Catholic farming community of Kildura which owed its beginning to deserters who jumped ship in St. John’s. There the imaginative Nipper roamed the fields by day and listened to adult conversation by night, seeking the answers to questions that plagued him. Why, for instance, do priests wear black like the bad guys in Saturday Westerns?

Nipper’s world broadens when he goes off to school. As well as the subjects taught, he studies the nuns, the fierce Sister Mary Ignatius and the kindly –– and holier, thinks Nipper –– Sister Bernadette. Then there were schoolmates to ponder, including God Love ¢ im Roy Driscoll who is a bit off but good as gold, the lovely, spirited Brigid Flynn named for the patron saint of farmers and solitary Paddy Dunne who lives in a shack but has the power to coax fish from streams.

When a visiting nun appeals to students to donate to missions in Peru, Paddy is shocked by pictures of the living conditions but not as shocked as Sister Mary Ignatius is by his comments.

"I just can’t understand what God has against them people, that’s all," said Paddy, noting that by comparison God appears to "shine" on his uncle, "And he don’t go to church, he drinks like a fish, he got about seven youngsters even though he was never married."

All this earns Paddy three straps on each hand and a week’s detention but he becomes a regular contributor to the mission fund. Nipper wonders if he’ll ever fathom it.

In his pursuit of understanding, Nipper begins to spend time with the mystical, eccentric and aging Brendan who owes his oddities to premature birth, having had complications from measles or having been dropped on his head. Together they roam the woods with Nipper struggling to comprehend how a man can know so much about religion and offer so many prayers yet never darken the doors of the church.

The gentle lessons of Nipper’s early childhood pale in comparison to the experience he gains after his mother arranges for him to be driven into St. John’s each day to attend All Angels School run by the Christian brothers. Instead of spending his time leisurely reading about the Beatles, playing 45s and saying the rosary, Nipper contends with the brutality of some of the Brothers, learns to keep an eye peeled for gangs of bullying Townies, becomes re-acquainted with an older Paddy Dunne who has a terrible secret, all the while questioning the brand of Catholicism he is being taught.

Kavanagh writes beautifully, with rich symbolism, about times past, poignantly illustrating how experience shapes character. His story is full of wit, warm humor and charming dialogue. The lyrical cadence of the writing is reminiscent of Alistair MacLeod, making it a book that begs to be read aloud.

Ed Kavanagh, 18 Parsons Avenue, Mount Pearl, NL, Canada A1N 1P6    Phone: 709-364-6386   email