This novel can often be a painful and heart-wrenching read. The final scenes are not for the faint hearted, so don’t choose this book if you want a nice read in front of the fire with a box of chocolates!
Marty’s Shadow is the story of two brothers, Marty and Jack, who mostly fend for themselves in a small country town. Their mother has left seven years ago and it is clear she is never coming back. Their father comes home only on weekends, or rarely at other times, as he tries to get work where he can. Their father is a complex character. He is often cruel and brutal, but can be tender and is capable of feeling guilt at his neglect and rough treatment of the boys. He tries to spend time with the younger brother Jack, but is totally disengaged from his older son. We only find out why later on.
Jack tries to lead a normal life in the town, going in school plays and joining a sporting team, but Marty is a loner, extremely troubled and disturbed. His persona is of a tough country kid who loves pig hunting and guns, but deep down there is a mystery about him. He becomes more and more troubled by voices and half memories of something terrible that has happened in the past. The Shadow of the title is two things, Marty’s dog, Gwab, who is always at his side, and, more horribly, the voices and nightmares that drench his dreams and then his waking thoughts.
As the book develops we get inklings of what his memories have repressed, but the darkness of the story is lightened by his relationship with an Iranian girl, Nariah. She has problems of her own from the small town prejudice towards her immigrant family, so they are drawn together. One of the most beautiful scenes is when Nariah invites Marty to her place for a meal, and they eat in their backyard. Her father has created a little Persian oasis of a garden, and her mother has created an oasis of care and lovingly prepared meals. Marty is nourished by the love and warmth he has never experienced from his own family.
Things are looking up, but take a turn for the worse, as Marty tries to help Nariah deal with the cruel tricks played on her family by some of the town’s boys. Violence escalates and all ends in a confronting final scene. Just before this Marty finally realises what he has been suppressing all his life. He lashes out from his place of pain and ends up hurting those he loves most.
Marty is not a loveable character, but Heffernan makes us care about what happens to him, and we are given inklings of hope that he might find some healing in his future life.