Books & Short Stories

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Compellingly gritty, truthful, and at times laugh-out-loud funny, Thomas Rice’s memoir Far from the Land is a wonder of a book–the kind you dog-ear to mark beautiful moments and striking insights until it becomes too thick to handle.  Required reading!

Wayne Johnson, author of Don’t Think Twice (nominated for Pulitzer Prize by Random House)
and winner of O. Henry Award.

The setting of Far From the Land is rural Ireland in the 1950s. Thomas Rice has written a riveting memoir about a way of life that no longer exists: no running water, no toilets, no electricity and little access to education, jobs or basic health care. Early on we are drawn into a culture with a recent memory of famines, a culture still showing the scars—from the homestead ruins that pockmark the landscape to the ghost towns and villages that never recovered from The Great Hunger of the 1840s.

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The 36 chapters (in three sections) cover all the touchpoints where lives intersect and identities are forged in the crucible of everyday and often public struggles. Writing on his own search for identity, the author recalls the night his absentee IRA father returns from England for the first time in ten years. Known as “The Voice” because of his tenor’s talent, here is the impact of his first song, Thomas Moore’s haunting tribute to the sweetheart of his martyred friend, Robert Emmet. The poem is titled, “She Is Far From The Land.”

No one in the kitchen that night ever forgot it. It was the perfect song, sung by the perfect voice at the perfect time. There could never be a better moment. The song had all the right ingredients for this audience: unrequited love, hero and heroine, loyalty, heartbreak, tragedy, treachery and martyrdom. Though these were universal themes in human affairs, we assumed the song was about us. By the end of the first verse, several people, women and men alike, were openly weeping. Some were actually sobbing; big shoulders heaving. Handkerchiefs were out and being passed around.

The memoir has the benefit of five decades of retrospection as the author brings each of his characters to life in a way that he could never have articulated as a 16-year-old. Told with startling honesty, without nostalgia or cliché, we still enjoy the hallmarks of the Celtic storytelling tradition: attention to detail, nuance, appreciation of human foibles and compassion for the anguish of struggle and loss. We come away with a renewed respect—and pride if you have any Irish bloodlines or identity—for rural Irish culture and the people who carry it forward with quiet dignity against the tide of their colonial history.

Praise for Far from the Land

As society changes, customs change, and some are lost to time. “Far from the Land: An Irish Memoir” tells the story of Thomas J. Rice, a man who grew up in rural Ireland, as he reflects on the fading history of the Irish countryside and its people, granting a lot of insight and thought about the world and what it is leaving behind, for the better and for the worse. “Far from the Land” is a choice read, well deserving of entry into any memoir collection.

– Midwest Book Review

Behind the shamrocks and shillelaghs exists a culture that is deeply rooted in agriculture, insurrection, music, art, and religion. The Irish survived genocide and foreign tyranny, triumphed in a war of independence, shed tears and blood in a civil war, and persevered in the face of bigotry and economic destitution. All the while they built most of the free world, created some of the most beautiful pieces of music, and suffered collectively as many fell victim to drink and forced emigration. And, at the heart of it all in 1959 was Thomas Rice and his mother, Maggie O’Toole.

Thomas was the youngest (and only) son of Maggie O’Toole and Arthur Rice, both revolutionary heroes from County Carlow, Ireland. Growing up in the shadow of his father’s notoriety, his mother’s reputation, and the wants and needs of his older sisters, Tom spent most of his childhood learning the ropes of running a farm. Unlike so many, Tom was secure in the knowledge that he would never have to emigrate because he had what most Irishmen could only wish for…he had land. What he didn’t have was a desire to be a farmer in rural corner of Ireland. So, in 1959, Tom sells off his livestock, packs up his mother, and begins an adventure that leads him “far from the land” and towards the realization of his dreams in the America.

Far From the Land is an autobiography chronicling the early life of Doctor Rice, his childhood in rural Ireland, and his immigration to the United States as a young adult. Through Rice’s recounting, the reader becomes immersed in the farming culture and political climate of Ireland right after World War II. The revolutionary fervor and the social stigmatization inherent in Ireland and England come to life as Rice narrates the events of his interesting, yet typical life. Far From the Land is more than just one man’s history. It is the history of Ireland and America in the latter half of the 20th century.

– Erin Nass for LuxuryReading.com

To say I loved this memoir would not be enough to express my feelings as I read this book. I am third generation Irish and I had knowledge on what living conditions were in Ireland found this story fascinating…

The characters that Thomas writes about are interesting, funny and a joy to read. The way Thomas wrote his story was so easy to read, I almost could smell the turf burning in the fireplace, or the cold seeping through the cracks in the house in the bleak winters. I felt like I was in the same room as Thomas described the craic (music and entertainment). This is his life, sometimes funny and sometimes sad and very down to earth. I highly recommend this book…Irish storytelling at it’s best!!!

– Kathleen Kelly, 5 stars on Amazon.com

If you yearn for a trip to Ireland but can’t quite make it happen this year, despair not. Pour yourself a Guinness, sit back in your favorite reading chair, and open “Far from the Land,” an Irish memoir, by Thomas Rice. You’ll be in Ireland, circa 1950, where you’ll be entertained and educated, enjoy an intimate look at the growing up years of a gutsy Irish lad, meet an array of Irish that rival the cast of Canterbury Tales, see the effects of poverty and sisters and an absent, alcoholic father, dogs and sheep and Arabian horses, Irish tenors and testosterone, the rain, the dark sky and the land, always the land. And then there’s the mother, who raises the bar on the meaning of love, sacrifice and control, whose spirit permeates this book the way a powerful river defines it’s valley.

Far from the Land is a delightful, passionate, honest, inspirational book. It is a wonderful coming of age story, a study of a society rooted in the religion and customs of a bygone era, a family saga, and a tale of courage, hard work, and determination. It is a good book to read if you are down, and want to hear the story of a boy who persevered to overcome obstacles far beyond what most Americans will confront in their life times. It is a good book to read if you are up, and want to hear the story of a lad who took the good with the bad, assimilated life’s lessons, and courageously moved on to the next challenge. The story is superb. The characters pop off the page. The prose is lively. The history is thought provoking and radical. In a long line of splendid literature bequeathed to us from Ireland, this memoir stands with the best. If you like memoirs, if you’re interested in Ireland, or if you want a good read to accompany your pint or your tea, you can’t do better than “Far From the Land.”

– Peter Gibb,Author


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best-american-mysteriesThe Best American series is the premier annual showcase for the country’s finest short fiction and nonfiction. Each volume’s series editor selects notable works from hundreds of magazines, journals, and websites.

A special guest editor, a leading writer in the field, then chooses the best twenty or so pieces to publish. This unique system has made the Best American series the most respected — and most popular — of its kind.

Includes Hard Truths, a novella.

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Praise for Hard Truths

Of the 20 selections, three stand out as particularly excellent, two of them coincidentally centered on father-son relationships… Thomas J. Rice’s “Hard Truths,” the longest story in the book, has the breadth and complexity of a full length novel. In rural Ireland of 1958, an early teen responsible beyond his years admires his strong and locally feared mother and dreads the return of his legendarily prodigal father. Few will anticipate where this story is going…

– Jon L. Breen, Mystery Scene Magazine

The one yearly anthology I most look forward to reading is the Best Mystery Stories. Old favorites, new voices abound in this reliable, consistently fine series. Of course, the word mystery in the title is a misnomer. Mystery has really come to represent not the limited scope of the whodunit of yesteryear but more of an inclusive genre of literature with a crime involved. I’m glad the umbrella has opened enough to include more voices and more stories. Otto Penzler has been spearheading the mammoth task of finding 50 of the most noteworthy titles of the year, while the Guest Editor, a yearly title, this year Robert Crais, picks out his favorite 20 for publication, and what a varied group these 20 stories are. Varied in tone, setting and quality.

My favorite is Thomas J Rice’s atmospheric tale set in 1950’s Ireland. “Hard Truths” sneaks up on you and delivers.

– Allen Reilly, Mysterphile


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All Souls’ Day

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A short story published in the New Orphic Review, Vol. 16, No. 2, Fall, 2013.

Excerpt from  All Souls’ Day:

“Listen, here she comes,” Maureen whispered, turning off the lantern and lighting a candle, the better to see our dancing shadows. This was par for the course, so Myles was braced for another medley of horrors, aware that the sisterhood seemed even more animated than usual.

            That’s when the wailing  stopped abruptly, as if passing the baton to the massive border collie, Captain—known to the  family as,“Cap”—in his ferocious, attack-style barking, amplified across the silent farmyard. And that’s when the game stopped being a game, even for the sisterhood.

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“Night At The Arabian”
Night at the Arabian Image

A short story included in the The Green Hills Literary Lantern, Volume 25, Copyright ©2014

Read It Here

Carby’s Fate

Carby's Fate

Carby Bolger assumes, as he has all his life, that he’ll inherit the family farm in County Kilkenny, Ireland. After all, he’s the eldest child and only son, making him heir by ancient custom. And when his ailing father finally dies, Carby—a prickly loner of a man—plans to finally capitalize on the farm’s secret.

The heir apparent’s plans come crashing down when his sister Molly returns from London to care for their ill parents. When she becomes pregnant, with no husband in sight, her condition—and her lack of any effort to hide it—shocks and outrages the staunchly Catholic community. But when her son is born, he immediately steals the heart of his dying grandfather, a beloved member of the close-knit community. More than that, to Carby’s horror, the “little bastard” inherits everything.

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What follows is a rancorous lawsuit on which everyone in the county seems to have an opinion—especially the regulars at Finnegan’s Pub. Faced with an abrasive, disliked judge, Carby finds himself a local hero for the first time in his life. How long he can retain his newfound local favor depends on his own patience and his sister, who plans to sell the farm (and, unwittingly, its secret) to an American, driving Carby to desperate and—as it turns out—fateful measures.

A classical piece of Irish storytelling, Carby’s Fate combines family drama and duplicity with violence, betrayal, and redemptive hope.

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Rites of Passage: Five Irish Stories

In traditional Irish storytelling fashion, Thomas J. Rice delivers five gritty, realistic tales of corruption, terror, hope, and redemption. The two novellas and three short stories in Rites of Passage center on family drama and mystery and are set in late-twentieth-century rural Ireland.

“Rites of Passage,” the title novella, follows a man from his adopted home in Boston back to Ireland to confront the priest who molested him decades earlier. Does he seek revenge for the pain that torments him or find closure?

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The second novella, “Hard Truths,” focuses on a conflict between a philandering, hard-drinking father and his fourteen-year-old son that turns deadly. It was featured in The Best American Mystery Stories of 2012, edited by bestselling writer Robert Crais.

The collection is rounded out with three short stories that tackle subjects such as death, a family outing gone wrong, and lighthearted fun from the perspective of an altar boy. As in most Irish stories, female characters play key roles.

Readers who have followed the recent controversies surrounding the Catholic Church and the conflict in Northern Ireland will find these stories especially interesting, though the drama, mayhem, and mystery will appeal to anyone who loves an engaging plot.

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