So, even though Pete Hamill has been very adamant that the television show with the same name as his book Forever is not a sanctioned adaptation (it does have many striking similarities), I thought that this banner for the tv show was actually a beautiful representation of the New York that Hamill describes over two plus centuries. Also, I actually think the show isn’t all that bad, plus it has the added bonus that my friend, the lovely and talented Bridget Ori was in an episode as a 1930s heroin addict . . .
For our first meeting of 2015, Read It & Steep met to discuss Pete Hamill’s Forever, a novel that tracks one man’s experiences from his birth in Ireland in the early 1700s to his life stuck on the island of Manhattan through 2001. I know I mentioned before how concerned the group was that this hefty book was going to take us forever to read, but most of us did complete it. I’d say 2015 is off to a good start!
We all commented on how in depth Cormac O’Connor’s (I kept calling the poor character Cormac McCarthy instead of his given name) formative years are described. While we thought his youth was interesting, Mr. Hamill speeds the narrative up exponentially after Cormac gets his strange immortality, sometimes skipping half-a-century or more. We felt like it was almost like Hamill got tired of writing the story and jumped ahead by leaps and bounds. It felt a bit disjointed because of it.
The form of immortality that Cormac is “blessed” with by his African Shaman friend is unique. We all agreed that it was interesting that the terms of Cormac’s immortality included that he must truly live as opposed to simply existing in addition to the fact that he could not leave the island of Manhattan. Now, I know that Manhattan is a pretty densely populated place, especially now, but I felt it was difficult to believe that Cormac was able to exist for two centuries without having multiple people discover his unusual nature. Unlike most fiction that includes extraordinarily long life (usually vampire tales) the immortal moves around and at least changes their name to try to keep their secret. In Cormac’s case, he maintains not only his name, but his residence for an extraordinary length of time. Yes, we are led to believe that he does age very slightly (though this is never directly said, Cormac is about 18 when he gains immortality and is described as looking about 40 in 2001) I had a hard time believing Cormac made it through all that time with only a few confidants.
I also added that I found it impossible to believe that he would still have all his own teeth . . . I was reminded by my fine group that if we can suspend our disbelief that Cormac is still alive after 200 years, he could have found a way to not be counted in a census or achieve magical dental care. This also brought up a discussion of just how long is “forever.” Our resident scientist, Kristin, quipped, “I mean are we talking heat death of the universe?! Cause that would be pretty bad.” We agreed. We also agreed that in fiction, the author is allowed to make up the rules and they also don’t necessarily need to share all of those rules with their readers.
Finally, we did wish more had been done with the storyline of Cormac’s need to avenge his father’s death. As part of his Irish Celtic clan, he was oath-bound to end the bloodline of the Earl of Warren, the man responsible for his father’s murder. Again, this is initially a heavy focus and then it’s like Cormac, or Hamill, forgot about it. We all thought it would be so interesting to hear about how Cormac’s quest for justice must shift to accommodate modern advances in criminology, etc. We all agreed that we would have been interested in exploring more about the Warren family and how they developed from the Earl. We enjoyed making up our own little subplot where Cormac and Mary’s child married into the Warren family, creating an interesting ripple in Cormac’s revenge . . . that didn’t happen though.
Instead, the novel ended in what we thought was a sloppy description of 9/11. Cormac’s home happens to be within viewing distance (through massive skylights) and he doesn’t describe how the fallout affected his home. Plus, on the day of the attacks, Cormac makes phone calls and goes to a restaurant for lunch. I was in West Chester, Pennsylvania on September 11th and I know that I couldn’t get a phone call to connect. My university cancelled classes. Steeper Melissa was in NYC that day and says that everything closed down in the aftermath. Granted, Mr. Hamill has stated that the book was completed on September 10, 2001 and that he had to go back to add in the terrorist attacks.
Those of us who finished Forever by Pete Hamill agreed that it wasn’t quite the cumbersome task that we had expected and it had some nice moments, but overall we weren’t totally impressed.
Read It & Steep rates this book 2.5 teacups.
I seemed to have forgotten to take photos of the “New York” style cheesecake bites that I made for this book. I’ll see if I can dig up a recipe!