Stevie comes from a long line of people who have cut and run. Just like he has.
Only he’s not so sure he was right to go. He’s been to London, taught himself to get by, and now he’s working as a laborer not so far from his childhood home in Glasgow. But Stevie hasn’t told his family—what’s left of them—that he’s back. Not yet.
He’s also not far from his uncle Eric, another one who left—for love this time. Stevie’s toughened himself up against that emotion. And as for his mother, Lindsey . . . well, she ran her whole life. From her father and Ireland, from her husband, and eventually from Stevie, too.
Moving between Stevie’s contemporary Glaswegian life and the story of his parents when they were young, The Walk Home is a powerful novel about the risk of love, and the madness and betrayals that can split a family. Without your past, who are you? Where does it leave you when you go against your family, turn your back on your home; when you defy the world you grew up in? If you cut your ties, will you cut yourself adrift? Yearning to belong exerts a powerful draw, and Stevie knows there are still people waiting for him to walk home.
An extraordinarily deft and humane writer, Rachel Seiffert tells us the truth about love and about hope.
The girl came as a shock. It took Brenda a while to adjust: a girl was the last thing she’d expected from Graham.
He was Brenda’s youngest, by a few years, a big baby with a big head; oh ho, a troop cometh, Malky said. Graham was a happy accident, who never stopped eating, never stopped growing. He was the quietest of their four sons, but also the tallest, and the widest. Overnight he couldn’t do up the buttons on his school shirts, his socks forever showing where his trousers were too short. Graham was a gentle lad, and a comfort, but a bit too backwards in coming forwards, so Brenda fretted about him some school mornings, after she’d dropped him at the gates: hard to see him sidelined at the railings till the bell went.
She and Malky used to talk about him last thing at night, in bed, lights out. Brenda said she watched all the other boys tearing about, and Graham standing there like he didn’t know how. Malky said he’d learn, give him time. So she’d held her tongue when Graham joined his first band.
It wasn’t that Brenda liked it, but it was just about the first thing he’d joined in with. And she knew plenty boys who’d done the same: her older sons’ school pals, and even Malky, before they were married and he’d settled to driving his cab. Malky reckoned it was just a scheme hazard, part of life if your life was lived in Drumchapel. He said boys will be boys, they’ll always want to belong, and he teased Brenda too: he said it was her blood coming through. Her Dad had been an Orangeman, true blue, forever nursing the wounds of his Free State youth; aw the faimly woes, they all lead back tae Ireland. But Malky was a sweet man, mostly, and he could tease without being hurtful, so Brenda trusted him when he told her flute bands were forever springing up and then folding, and Graham would grow out of it, same as he had.
Graham was thirteen when he started. He got himself a paper round to pay for his uniform, and Brenda didn’t know that it was worth it: all he did was bash the cymbals. But the months went by with him saving, and then the Glasgow Walk rolled round, as it always did, just ahead of Ulster; first Saturday in July she sent him off with a good breakfast, if not her blessing, and then Graham came home again towards tea time with his face all shining. Wide-shouldered and even taller in his new uniform trousers. He said how folk on the scheme had cheered them, and followed them all the way into town, and how the lodge they’d played for had paid them too, like no one had told him that’s how it worked. Graham saved his cut, in any case, and then he took on a second round, because he could manage two paper bags, one across each shoulder. He did that for months. Earned himself enough for a drum. Just second-hand, but he chose a good one, Malky said so: he remembered that much from his own band days.
The drum got Malky worried too, Brenda could see that, because he went out and made enquiries. He even went along to practice, to see where this was headed, and have a quiet word to Geordie. He was the bandmaster, and an Orangeman too, but one of the decent kind. Malky told Brenda his band had been going decades, no headcases allowed: Geordie only kept folk that could hold a melody down. He didn’t like a drum to be battered, the way they did in the blood-and-thunder bands, he said it should be played, and he taught Graham the difference. So for a while there, they breathed a bit easier.
Only it turned out Graham was quick to learn, and quick to get poached by other bands. It was a new lot he went to Tyrone with: none of them much over twenty, not one of them with an ounce of sense. The idiot bandmaster reckoned the Glasgow Walk was just a warm-up to get the marching season started. The real deal was over in Ireland on the Twelfth, so he’d talked some country lodge into hiring them, and it was a worry from the outset, the whole enterprise.
Brenda looked the town up in the atlas that used to be her father’s. It was just a thumbprint’s distance from Portadown, where they didn’t just remember the Battle of the Boyne each July, they fought it against their neighbours all year round. She told Malky it was too much like the place her Dad was born in; she’d grown up hearing all Papa Robert’s stories, of the Irish Civil War and what came after, when the Free State turned out to be anything but, and the family fled across the water. Plus she’d had two sons in the army, and endured their Ulster tours of duty, so there were just some place names that set Brenda on edge. The folk around those parts were unyielding. Not just the Catholics, with their residents’ groups, stirring the bloody soup, but her own kind too: staunch. No thought of surrender allowed there. They all had their reasons, turned rigid over centuries of grievance, but Brenda said if no one bent, then someone was bound to break, and she didn’t want it to be their boy.
She’d gone to meet Graham off the coach, when it drew up outside the snooker club, hours late, and it was bucketing too. He was a sight: looked like he’d spent the three days drinking himself red-eyed. Relief made Brenda run off at the mouth, and she gave the older boys in the band a piece of her mind, until they put her straight:
“A braw lassie wae red hair doon tae her bum, missus. Nothin tae dae wae us.”
It took days to get any sense out of Graham. He sat there with his dinner plates untouched, his eyes all small and sore in his big face. The phone kept going, every few hours, call box calls from far-off Tyrone, and Graham lay on the sofa pining after the next one, a great soft lump. Young love. Malky said it would pass, give it a month. But one morning, a bit more than a month later, Graham was gone. His bed was made, and a note taped to the kettle: back themorrow. And he was too, with Lindsey, who was seventeen and six weeks pregnant.
It floored her; Brenda wasn’t going to deny it. But there they were, standing hand in hand in her kitchen, both smiling so much she could feel the happiness off them, like heat.
Excerpted from The Walk Home by Rachel Seiffert. Copyright © 2014 by Rachel Seiffert. Excerpted by permission of Pantheon, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
RACHEL SEIFFERT's first novel, The Dark Room, was short-listed for the Booker Prize, won the Los Angeles Times First Fiction Prize, and was the basis for the acclaimed motion picture Lore. She was one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists in 2003; in 2004, Field Study, her collection of short stories, received an award from PEN Inter-national. Her second novel, Afterwards, was long-listed for the 2007 Orange Prize, and in 2011 she received the E. M. Forster Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Her books have been published in eighteen languages. Formerly of Glasgow, she now lives in London with her family.
1. Describe the relationship between Stevie’s parents, Lindsey and Graham. Why does she leave Ireland for him? Why does she eventually leave Scotland too? What is she running away from? Do you think she’ll ever find peace?
2. How is The Walk Home a story of reinvention? Who tries to reinvent themselves and why? Do they succeed?
3. Are any of the characters free of guilt? How does both family guilt and religious guilt play into the novel?
4. The Walk Home is set against the sectarian and cultural divisions and hatred of Northern Ireland and Scotland in the 1990s that are, years later, still reeling from the Troubles of the 1960s. How does religion affect the characters, even those that aren’t religious?
5. Why does Graham play his flute in the annual Protestant Orange Walk despite pressure from his wife and mother? Why don’t they want him to participate?
6. What does playing and practicing with the band give Graham that he doesn’t seem to have from anything else? How does it ultimately rip apart his family?
7. Why does the relationship between Graham and Lindsey dissolve? What do you think kept them together up to that point?
8. Why does Stevie run away from home and stay away for so long? What is he running away from and to what or where is he running?
9. What do you think home represents for each of the characters? Family? Love? Safety? Shared history?
10. What does the title mean to you? What do you think it means to Stevie, to Lindsey, to Eric, to Graham, and to the Polish workers?
11. The Economist says of The Walk Home, “This is a book about people who say very little.” Why do Graham and Stevie not say much? Why does Lindsey chat more with Eric and her mother-in-law than with her husband?
12. Describe Lindsey and Eric’s relationship. What binds them together? Why does Lindsey ultimately feel betrayed by Eric?
13. Does Lindsey trust anyone? Does Stevie?
14. Why do you think the author compares a working-class Scottish family with the community of Polish contractors who are in Scotland with little family or cultural connections? What do they represent in the novel?
15. Discuss the themes of violence and betrayal in this work. How does violence, both physical and mental, play into the story?
16. What do we learn about Graham’s grandfather, Papa Robert? How has his large personality (“He was a force tae be reckoned with” [p. 39]) loomed over and haunted the family even after his death?
17. How is Eric different from the other men in the novel? “He’d taken a lonely path, and it had undone him” (p. 206).
18. “Now he was no longer so angry, perhaps he could feel it as his father had” (p. 207). Eric tries to forgive and explain his father to Lindsey, but it backfires. Why?
19. Is the Drumchapel neighborhood of Glasglow, as described here, similar to any neighborhood you know of? How and why?
20. Do you think the ending is hopeful? And do you think Stevie will finally feel like he belongs?