Love’s Not Over ‘Til It’s Over – Edward T. Byrne
Edward T. Byrne has crafted a saga of love, family, and human growth during wartime in his novel, Love’s Not Over ‘Til It’s Over. Exploring themes of faith, forgiveness, and fate, Byrne’s work is an epic undertaking of an Irish family in the 20th century.
The book follows the journey of James Devlin and his family and friends throughout his life. Burdened by the expectations of his father, WWII hero Dave Devlin, James struggles to find his own identity during the Vietnam War without widening the generational divide between himself and his parents. As we follow him from his birth and early childhood in Queens, to college in Maine, and onward to a burgeoning law career, we watch as he tries to fulfill himself during a time in which obligations to faith, family, country, and manhood weighed heavily on the shoulders of a young man.
Byrne’s novel is a 300-and-some volume dancing with enough content to fill hundreds of more pages. As the author weaves together heavy messages of love, forgiveness, destiny, and family, he gives us a glimpse into the tension of growing up amidst history repeating its own war-torn self. James fights a battle of watching his friends go off to war, while internalizing his father’s disappointment that James isn’t committed enough to do the same. He fights to stay close to his family, even when they disagree most fervently with his life choices. Byrne narrates a coming-of-age story in which James is thrown into a complicated and insightful historical setting, while simultaneously dealing with the mundane challenges of becoming a man.
Byrne has crafted an impressively inclusive saga, that spans just shy of a century of political and sociological conflict. The journey of his cast of characters is extremely thoughtful and full of intent; no detail factored into the story is without purpose. The story is powerfully driven by techniques flashbacks, which connect the motives and scenes together to lend weight to the decisions of the characters, as well as eloquent, thematic statements. Byrne has no shortage of poetic quotes to choose from when reinforcing his motifs:
“I was never tortured by what ifs. I knew how it felt to get exactly what you asked for.”
“ War was like that. One of the few things you could depend on. It would happen all over again.”
“…you’re at the mercy of the people you love.”
The novel is successful at creating these concise morals of the story; they help to provide structure to an otherwise huge amount of plot content.
The novel takes on a lot of concepts, and could probably benefit from being a much longer book. While dealing with an abundance of huge themes and historically-motivated plot points, the book is forced to move fast. Many scenes lose their impact because they are over as soon as they were introduced, and when Byrne ends a scene, he really ends it, frequently jumping ahead months and years to the next relevant event in James Devlin’s life.
Perhaps because of the quick pace, or because of the historical aspect, much of the novel feels very procedural: the book prefers to tell, rather than show. Many action scenes are explained away quickly, and much of the character thoughts are narrated in a very expository way. As the story jumps from one point to another without letting anything sit long enough to sink in, it often feels like there is no driving conflict. We are not reading toward anything. There are small climaxes woven in, but at no point did the book feel like it reached its peak.
The book does well at only including dialogue and moments that are crucial to understanding this life journey. However, the different characters seem to blend together; the non-distinct voices often had me questioning if I knew the characters at all. Would James really say that as a teenager? Would he really think that way as a child? Despite traveling throughout his entire life, the character of James Devlin was a difficult one to relate to. Much like the book juggles too much for its own good, so does James. He is a Catholic, a good student, a fraternity brother, a sports star, an underdog, an alcoholic, a lawyer, and despite loads of questionable luck and success, is somehow still painted as an awkward outsider. I’m not saying that someone can’t be all of these things, but it is a little overboard for a novel that is also trying to create a historical context and juggle the lives of many other characters.
My biggest trouble with the novel came at the end. As we see James has become an ambitious lawyer, his past meets his future as an old friend appears to assist with a huge securities case, involving an old arch enemy. I’m a sucker for full-circle plots, and I appreciated the action of introducing older characters at the very end of the book. However, much of this section evolved into a crime drama, ripe with law jargon and randomly interspersed with glimpses of James adult family life. At this point, I felt that I was reading a new book.
Love’s Not Over ‘Til It’s Over handles an impressive amount of spinning plates at once, and while they never seem to drop, the act becomes a little tired each time a new plate is added. In a style truly reserved for epics, we trace James Devlin’s entire life, his decisions, and the consequences to play witness to the development of a young man in wartime. While the novel might get confused in what it wants to be, moving quickly from war saga to life story to law procedural, it leaves us with a good amount of adages, reminding us of the value of love and family. “Maybe love’s like baseball, Pop…It’s not over ‘til it’s over. Maybe it’s never over, no matter what.”
Thank you to NetGalley and Sixby Literary Company for my copy in exchange for an honest review.