Little Chapel on the River is a warm memoir of a family and a community that eat, drink, and socialize at Guinan’s, a family owned Irish pub in the town of Garrison, N.Y. The pub, now closed, was on the Hudson River, across from West Point and next to the Garrison train station.
I am mostly Irish-American, and I enjoyed the depiction of modern day Irish-American culture.
The author, Gwendolyn (Wendy) Brooks is from North Carolina and is a journalist for the Wall Street Journal. She is in a relationship with another woman, Kathryn. Their apartment was across the street from the World Trade Center, and they had to flee on the morning of 9/11. Some months later, a friend brought them to Guinan’s, upstate, and Wendy became so enchanted with the place that they settled in Garrison.
Guinan’s became an important part of her life. The personalities and relationships of each of the diverse characters who frequent the pub are well drawn. Each comes across as interesting and dignified. Common courtesy is expected and people respect each other in general. Wendy doesn’t flaunt the fact that she is in a relationship with another woman but doesn’t hide it either. She comes across as a normal, even classy person and is accepted by the men and women who hang-out there. Soon enough, she earns the trust of the Guinan family and, inevitably, pitches-in at the pub whenever help is needed. She becomes a member of the inner circle of an extended group of family-like Guinan loyalists. Their lives became part of her own.
The event of 9/11 caused many who experienced it so reflect upon what is most important in life. Each chapter of Little Chapel on the River is suffixed with a recollection of the author from her childhood in North Carolina. For Wendy, post 9/11, the discovery of Guinan’s provided her with a network of relationships in a community of ordinary but very human and loving people, like the ones she knew as a young child.
The book evoked a bit of sadness in me. America has been in a decades-long love affair with the self and the almighty dollar. The pub and its community are a relic from the past, when persons, relationships, family, and community counted. Little Chapel on the River is a reminder of something that America has been slowly losing for a long time.