Beauty and blood

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First Posted: 5/5/2014

The most beautiful rose in the world is not without its thorns. There it remains, still in its place until chosen and picked. Bare hands meet with stem, then tragedy — the prick — is proof that everything enchanting comes with a price.

In Thomas A. Cerra’s debut novel, “Black Rose,” readers are drawn inward by a love so intense there can only be heartbreak. In Ireland, during a time of great religious turmoil between Protestants and Roman Catholics, we meet a couple, Matthew Flannery and Nora Burns, who while opposite, fall in love. Upon their union, Matthew and Nora, alongside her sisters, Cora, Flora, Dora, and Mary, depart their hometown of Belfast, hoping to leave trouble behind in search of happiness across the sea.

“Matthew and Nora stood holding each other, watching their large friend growing smaller, fading into the blurred remains of Ireland. The sisters too peered over the rail of the ferry as their homeland blended into the horizon and was gone. Once the water of the channel was all that remained, Matthew turned Nora and the girls away from Ireland to face the direction they now headed.”

Upon entering Ellis Island, Matthew and Nora begin their lives together wondering what future exists for them. Together, with their ever-growing family, Matthew and Nora eventually settle into a home in Ashley, Pennsylvania. With the birth of their first child, Elizabeth Grace, the weight of the burdens they carry seem to lift as they create their new lives — roots finally given the proper soil to flourish. Unfortunately, trouble finds them soon enough, proving that all dreams, captivating as they are, are not without hardship.

The journey of these characters begins as a simple love story, only to grow into a plot full of suspense, sorrow, and hope. Cerra, in meticulous fashion, manages to weave not only Irish history, but also that of Northeastern Pennsylvania, where our characters reside and ultimately branch out over three decades. Beginning with the love between Matthew and Nora, the story moves to then explain the love and losses between Elizabeth and her husband, James McGill. Without giving too much away, the plot again takes off with one of the most important characters of all, the daughter of Elizabeth and James — Rose Aileene McGill — otherwise known as “Black Rose” McGill.

In attempting to summarize the entirety of Cerra’s “Black Rose,” I quote Anne Brontë, who wrote: “[h]e who dares not grasp the thorn should never crave the rose.” Cerra concludes the complex and mesmerizing tale with a surprise ending — one of hopeful continuation.

‘Black Rose’ by Thomas A. Cerra Rating: W W W W W