Books: Mother & Son

AN ONLY CHILD (275 pp.)—Frank O'Connor—Knopf ($4.50).

In two of the most difficult tasks a writer can undertake, to write the truth about himself and about his mother, Frank O'Connor has chosen to tell a plain tale that succeeds better as work of the imagination than most fiction. He writes out of that typical Irish condition, self-exile —O'Connor lives in Palo Alto, Calif.—but the pipes of nostalgia are muted. Indeed, his chosen adjective for the old sod is not "green" but "mediocre."

The story concerns the pitiful boyhood and youth of Michael O'Donovan (Frank O'Connor is a pen name) in a wet,...

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