Today on the blog dear reader I am reviewing The Beasts They Turned Away (Published 11th March 2021) By Ryan Dennis. A big thank you to the publishers Epoque Press for sending me a copy to review, always appreciated.
The Beasts They Turned Away
Iosac Mulgannon is a man called to stand. Losing a grip on his mental and physical health, he is burdened with looking after a mute child whom the local villagers view as cursed. The ageing farmer stubbornly refuses to succumb in the face of adversity and will do anything, at any cost, to keep hold of his farm and the child. This dark and lyrical debut novel confronts a claustrophobic rural community caught up in the uncertainties of a rapidly changing world.
About The Author
Ryan Dennis is a former Fulbright Scholar in Creative Writing and has taught creative writing at several universities. He has been published in various literary journals, particularly in the US, including The Cimarron Review, The Threepenny Review and Fusion. In addition to completing a PhD in creative writing at the National University of Ireland, Galway, he is a syndicated columnist for agricultural journals around the world. The Beasts They Turned Away is Ryan’s debut novel.
The narrative follows the struggles of everyday life of an old man called Iosac Mulgannon and a mute child who is unnamed. It is unclear whether the child is related to him as he just appeared one night and the old man has cared for him ever since. When the old man is not working on the farm he is in the town with the child picking up food or having a pint in the Clarke Martin Pub. Everyone is extremely wary of the child and believe him to be cursed. They whisper and mutter when they walk by while also crossing themselves. They believe him to not be natural and tell the old man to send him away. He refuses and protects the child at all costs. His determination to let the child be is powerful and questions the town; who decides what is natural?
I enjoyed the vivid imagery Dennis used as it sent chills down my spine. From the beginning the child wears a cow skull that stays on him up to near the end of the story. It’s a haunting image mixed with innocence and youth. It confuses you but has the right effect bringing up why the townspeople appear nervous in his presence. It acts as a barrier which limits the interaction between characters which effectively only intensifies the old man and child’s loneliness more.
This is a story about life and nature set against the backdrop of the loneliness and isolation that comes from working on the farm. It is a simple way of life that strips back all the nonsense and noise that modern living has accustomed us to. Here, it is just the land, the sky and the noise of the animals that surround you. The old man ploughs and ploughs to feel the day push against him, to feel the ache in his body. He needs to know that he still can and always will. He knows the sounds of the land and his body works in rhythm to its song. When letters start piling up with the bank’s logo it becomes clear that he is about to lose everything. He has put everything into the farm, he is embedded in its soil. He can not give up, it is all that he is. The music of the milkers are soaked into his skin, it takes over and consumes his heart. The old man tells the child how they are born of this ground and will let it tear itself from their feet before men take it from them. They will not move and will never yield.
The relationship between the old man and the child is an odd one. The old man speaks and the child says nothing. He follows and watches through the cow’s skull, showing little to no emotion. The old man cares for the child but keeps him at a distance. Sometimes he will attempt to reach out and touch him before the child quickly moves away. He wonders if the child sees things that he doesn’t and knows the child won’t be steered by anyone.
There is a heavy weight of sadness to this story as the old man spends his days working the farm with little to no interaction with other people. He will talk now and then to the child who never speaks and finds himself thinking back on memories past. It is hinted that there was a chance for happiness years ago with a woman but he didn’t take it. I felt for both characters but took some comfort that they at the very least had each other to feel a little less alone.
I give The Beasts They Turned Away By Ryan Dennis a Four out of Five paw rating.
No matter where I turned I was faced with the never-ending stretch of fields, looming ominously into the unknown. This is a story that shows you how to be a part of the land and the story it tells. It gets wedged in-between your nails, into your skin and hair reminding you of a different time, a place with an old sky and song.
Hop hop wiggle wiggle