Early in this novel, the author sets the tone with a perfectly worded phrase: “He looked towards the sky and the sun coffined in cloud and saw it was tense with rain and he called his dog but there was no sight nor sound of it.” That one thought sums up Red Sky in Morning to a tee. It is the story of Coll Coyle, an Irishman, who, through an impulsive act, is forced to flee Ireland for America. Hot on his trail is John Faller, a man bent on revenge, who doesn’t care who he has to hurt or kill to catch his prey.
This novel is beautifully written. The prose is poetic in its depiction of the world in which Coll and Faller live. Lynch paints word pictures that stab you in the heart and cut right to the quick of human expression and feeling. His style is reminiscent of Flannery O’Connor and Cormac McCarthy. As I mentioned above, that line describes the novel in its entirety. The characters live within a coffin. They are always looking upward, toward the sun, toward happier times, toward a good life, but the tense rain clouds, the tension of their dreary, painful existences, are in the way. They call for companionship, for friendship, for someone to traverse their dark, rain soaked world with, but no one answers their call. They live lives of loneliness, depression, hunger, pain, and hopelessness. Lynch is a master at evoking these concepts and feelings.
However, the beauty of Lynch’s language is where the greatness of this novel stops. The story itself, of a hunter and the hunted, is shallow. Coll, in a sudden fit of rage, kills his landlord and runs. Faller, the landlord’s father-figure, gives chase. That’s the plot’s core, and Lynch does little to veer from that core. His characters – from Coll and Faller to Faller’s companions to the people Coll meets on his escape – are written exactly the same. They are flat, two dimensional characters who come across as caricatures of reality. Paul Lynch, the author is Irish, and all of his Irish male characters are drunkards, thieves, poor white trash with volcanic tempers. All of his Irish female characters are meek, subservient women who have no value except to care for the family. When they finally arrive in America, Lynch’s American characters are just as one-sided: the men are either deeply Christian or bigoted animals. The women are either prostitutes, silent family raisers, or uppity city-folk. There is little variation in the temperament, the concept, or the realization of any of his characters. Even the landscape is caricatured. Ireland is portrayed as a rotting marsh of gray skies and rain, a desolate place full of rivers, rocks, and forests. On the other side of the spectrum is America, the land of sunshine, heat, lush fields of crops, and opportunity. It’s as though Lynch deliberately wanted to show the differences in Ireland and America, but the only way he could think of to do it was by flip-flopping the environment.
Perhaps this is an Irish “western” along the lines of Louis L’amour. However, the problem there is that in American westerns, at least one of the main players is sympathetic – either the hunter or the hunted is the “good guy”. We have neither, here. Coll is a murderer fleeing from justice. He is non-repentant over his killing of Hamilton. All he is concerned with is getting back to his family. He is not a likable character. He’s the quintessential hunted man, running through a dismal, depressing environment, always furtive, always untrusting-yet-trusting, aimless. He has no plan, doesn’t know half the time where he is or what’s going on. Likewise, Faller. The hunter is single minded about his pursuit of Coll. He’s the quintessential hunter. He has no motivations, no weaknesses, no humanity. We don’t even know why he’s chasing Coll for certain. Is it simply revenge, or does he feel it’s justice? Faller comes across as a villain-type that has become the rage today – he’s the philosophical killer, made most famous in the movies of Quentin Tarantino. Faller has infinitely deep philosophical ideas about life that he always tends to preach just before he kills someone. He leaves a swath of death in his wake, killing for pleasure. It’s difficult to feel sympathy for either of these two.
Add to these poorly created characters an ending that’s hurried, confusing, and less than satisfying, and you’ve got a novel that, essentially, uses a beautiful vocabulary to describe absolutely nothing.