Angels of Destruction by Keith Donohue
Pros: Believable, Powerful writing, Characters,
Cons: Unanswered questions
In 2006 The Stolen Child surprised readers and critics. Keith Donohue’s compelling story did a remarkable job of blending fairy tales with reality and magic. He created chills that haunted readers for years. Anyone familiar with deep grief will recognize the need to fill the void left behind with something real or imaginary, and with Donohue’s elegant crafting of his book Angels of Destruction we experience some of the manifestations that result from loss. was an impressive first novel.
I read this while sitting with my own father who is now under hospice care recognizing that the story takes on a different meaning than what it would have less than a month ago. As Donohue does in Angels of Destruction I’m linking the past and future and coming to terms with grief and acceptance both as the adult child and the youthful daughter of a special dad.
Angels of Destruction begins when Margaret Quinn finds a young girl at her doorstep on a cold winter night. She allows this lost nine year old into her house and life, initially for the night but quickly as a replacement for her daughter who had run away many years before. Readers begin to suspect that it might be the girl, Norah, who guides the relationship rather than Margaret, but it’s clear that this “grandchild” lovingly fills the void created by the loss of her daughter slightly more than nine years ago. While the relationship is sweet, we recognize that the child is somewhat mystical; she wants to be believed.
The first part of this story develops the relationship between Norah and Margaret but also Sean, a young boy of nine. Sean and Norah become close friends and as their relationship develops it’s apparent that she’s helping both. Donohue allows us to believe that Norah is an angel and lets us also believe she is not alone.
Sean, lonely and friendless, abandoned by his father, finds friendship in Norah which quickly grows into adoration and eventually awe. The two become inseparable, revealing to the other their secrets with Norah sharing some of her manifestations and magical talents. (Have you ever looked at the stars in the mouth of an angel?) We question whether she’s actually attempting to present proof of her existence as an angel or is she instead an emotionally unbalanced child.
Donohue adeptly links these in a package where the past and future converge and then multiplies.
The second part intimately introduces us to Erica’s story, the missing daughter, and why she left and with whom she left. As with many run-aways her life went from bad to worse and she found herself hiding from the law as they cross the country to join the Angels of Destruction, a radical west coast group reminiscent of the Weathermen. This flashback section takes us to the period when the family dissolved as a unit but also provides insight into what happened to her father Paul prior to her birth.
Again, I’m finding a personal connection with her father, a physician, working with “survivors” of the war in Japan who were suffering from radiation sickness. That was an emotionally disturbing and physically draining period in history for anyone involved, including my dad who was on one of the first ships landing in Japan after the bomb. It was her perception of his betrayal to the Hippocratic Oath that led her to rebel and leave. Along the way, while ill, she encounters Una, a mystical young nine-year old, who reappears throughout key moments in her life.
Are there angels guiding us or are they all hallucinations?
The third part attempts to bring the past and future together. The true character of Norah begins to surface, yet I never really experienced clear understanding. It seems as though too many answers remain incomplete. I found myself enjoying Donohue’s beautiful writing, the creativeness of his thoughts and his talent for forming a world where the inexplicable was happening. I loved how he wove in the responses of those who did not observe and lacked the faith to accept.
He left us with unanswered questions that formed throughout the story. He wraps it up with a satisfying conclusion but never re-addresses some earlier issues. The characters were intriguing. Some relationships hinted at more than was conveyed in Angels of Destruction. Margaret’s sister was a key figure in pulling the time lines together but how this came about was left vague.
Donohue doesn’t shy away from life’s tragedies and the decisions we make. He crafts his characters to be open to miracles as well as to their own foibles. Readers might not find this as engaging as The Stolen Child, it will depend upon the circumstances from where you read it. Today, I’m listening to my dad talk to his deceased wife from his hospice bed after she knocked on the door to enter this house – one she had never before entered. He says he was dancing with his wife, an angel, for hours. Donohue presents the possibilities that miracles might happen if the door is opened.