I guess I’d never read an actual novel of the Irish famine and the crossing before. Snatches and references, sure. But not a whole novel with that as the historical background. So for me, Behrens’ The Law of Dreams was truly eye-opening. Through the eyes of a young Irish lad named Fergus, the whole tragic history unfolds.
He’s not too far along his journey before he discovers and tells us that “the law of dreams” is to keep moving. Ingrained in the immigrant experience, this restlessness, this law of survival, is deep-rooted in the American psyche. Fergus is an unforgettable character, facing obstacles that are almost too daunting to surmount. But surmount, and in the end, prevail he does.
But not only is Fergus quite a remarkable rendering, there is also those along the way who he loves, loses and is sometimes betrayed by.
We only briefly know Phoebe, the landowners daughter, but sense the chasm of class that separates them. There’s charismatic Luke, whom he falls madly in love with but loses along the way. Shea, who befriends him with an eye to protect him – and sell him as a boy prostitute. There’s Molly whose multiple betrayals steel his resolve. There’s even a horse whom he takes a liking to, though it’s mean and ornery.
Fergus’ destiny may not be entirely in his own hands, but neither is his story written in a vacuum. Picaresque and near Candide like, Behrens has given us a stark and unsparing history filtered through the prism of an indomitable heart.