'Apologize, Apologize!': A Rollicking Family Affair Although the family in Apologize, Apologize may seem extreme, author Elizabeth Kelly says they are just "hyper-functional." Amidst the egos, eccentricities and a menagerie of intelligent animals is a quiet story of one boy's coming-of-age.
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'Apologize, Apologize!': A Rollicking Family Affair

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'Apologize, Apologize!': A Rollicking Family Affair

'Apologize, Apologize!': A Rollicking Family Affair

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On the surface, Elizabeth Kelly's debut novel is the story of a boy who becomes a man. But beneath that still narrative is a roiling tale of eccentric egos, comedy, tragedy and a menagerie of animals that seem smarter than humans. Collie Flanagan is the protagonist in "Apologize, Apologize!" And writer Elizabeth Kelly joins us from the CBC in Ottawa. Welcome to the program.

ELIZABETH KELLY: Thank you so much for having me, Liane.

HANSEN: Why is young Flanagan named after a breed of dog?

KELLY: Well, because his mother is obsessed with dogs and not particularly fond of human beings. So, I think it's one more way for her to express her dissident personality.

HANSEN: Tell us about Peregrine, Collie's maternal grandfather. And what's the influence you would say he has on Collie?

KELLY: Well, I think, I mean, Peregrine is a newspaper magnate. He's hugely influential. I think ultimately he is a representative parental figure for Collie. As difficult as he is, I think that he and Collie share something in common, beyond just the fact that Peregrine's daughter, Anais, who happens to be Collie's mother, despises both of them.

HANSEN: Peregrine has dreams for Collie, I mean, basically wants him to follow in the family business.

KELLY: Well, absolutely. I mean, as much scorn as he keeps on Collie, he still sees a mirror image of himself buried in there somewhere. Collie is his only hope.

HANSEN: Describe some of the other men in his life. His father, pop, named Charlie Flanagan and Charlie's brother Tom. Each has their own eccentricities.

KELLY: Well, that's right, you know. Charlie is a hopeless drunk and a philanderer. He's also a bit of a philosopher king. Uncle Tom is also a fairly nurturing figure in Collie's life. He's very challenging to Collie, too.

HANSEN: Tom is really down to earth. And...

KELLY: Yes, Tom is really down to earth.

HANSEN: Yeah. And Charlie, his father, I mean, he wants Collie basically to skate on the money from his grandfather's family and on the prestige that family has. And basically says to him at one point, why don't you want to do nothing? I mean, that's the greatest thing in the world and that's in direct conflict with what Collie wants to do, and he wants to be somebody.

KELLY: You know, it's funny because much has been made about the family's dysfunction. And actually, I don't know whether it's a reflection on me. Maybe I have a bit of a fun house mind.


KELLY: A fun house mirror mind, but the family has never - I never thought of them as dysfunctional. I never contrived to make them that way. If anything, I would say, they are hyper-functional. Everything works the way that they want it to work, because essentially they're performance artists. So, ultimately I think poor Collie feels a bit relegated to the role of roadie to the family.

HANSEN: He has a brother Bing, and this is the most important relationship in Collie's life. Bing is his younger brother.

KELLY: Collie, he wants to be, he wants to be an exceptional person, and for him that's embodied in Bing's spontaneity. Also, Bing is a very courageous sort of person. He's fearless. And I think Collie truly envies that.

HANSEN: I'm sorry, I'm reading your bio from the press people and I'm reading about your tragic Catholic education.


HANSEN: And you were mostly truant at college and you had multiple fiances.

KELLY: Oh definitely.

HANSEN: Years of poverty, strong opinions, poor judgment and you're now a largely unrecognized authority on Guns and Roses. And this sounds a lot...

KELLY: All pathetically true.

HANSEN: But it sounds like Collie.

KELLY: Oh really?




KELLY: Well, Collie and I do have - I would say one thing we definitely have in common, poor Collie, Collie strives to be brave. I am the world's biggest chicken.

HANSEN: Well, according, again, to the bio and a little bit of what you've told us, if you're able to get out from under the avalanche of old newspapers and in your century old house in a little eastern Ontario village where you hide from visitors...

KELLY: For me, I admire courageous people so much and that's really what I wanted to talk about in the novel.

HANSEN: Yeah. Are the animals and the birds in this book meant to be smarter than the humans?

KELLY: In my experience, animals are very intelligent and we have a lot to learn from them.

HANSEN: Yeah, it stands in great contrast sometimes to the humans in the book. You have birds here, too. I mean, you've got a pigeon that finds its way home on the train tracks.


KELLY: Well, pigeons actually have been known to walk home when they break their wing. So it's funny, I wanted to do something to elevate the modest pigeon, because growing up we always had baby pigeons roosting outside of my bedroom window. I think I've always somewhat identified with the pigeon.


HANSEN: But without giving away anything, I mean, the pigeon, there's this redemptive quality. I mean, everybody gets redeemed.

KELLY: What I wanted to do was to, in writing the book, was to really try to in some way replicate the ebb and flow of natural life, and life has a way of piling it on. And to me redemption is a very temporary thing. It's like a little glimmering, a moment of insight and then it's on to the next challenge.

HANSEN: Where did the title come from, "Apologize, Apologize!" because there is a scene in the book where Collie is being basically hounded to apologize for everything he's ever done?

KELLY: You know, the title actually emerges from sort of a comic incident in the book where he's confronted by some angry fellow bus travelers in Ireland. After writing that scene I thought, well, in many ways, "Apologize, Apologize!" is just one more demand from the greater universe. Especially if you view the greater universe as a crank or a busybody and that is so much of what Collie has had to deal with in his life. And of course the story is a story of regret, too.

HANSEN: Elizabeth Kelly's first novel is called "Apologize, Apologize!" is published by Twelve. She joined us from the studios of the CBC in Ottawa. Thanks a lot, thanks for coming out of the house to talk to us.

KELLY: Thank you so much for having me, Liane.

HANSEN: And you can read the first chapter of "Apologize, Apologize!" on the books page at npr.org.

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