Saranac Lake novelist offers multi-ringed love story

Saranac Lake author Elthea Stiegman’s novel “The Rings of Kathleen” is a love story, or maybe more accurately three love stories.

It begins in the Adirondacks and ends in Ireland. Stiegman’s narrative device is a diary bequeathed to Matthew Sullivan by a deceased woman whom Sullivan tutored in American Sign Language many years ago. The diary chronicles the story of American Kathleen and Irish Oisin.

Chris Shaw also used journals/notebooks for his “The Power Line,” recently reviewed in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise. Such a narrative construct allows for discovery and surprise. Here we learn of Kathleen by reading over her shoulder what she writes to herself about herself, which is open and vulnerable.

Kathleen, who is in her 50s and fascinated by her grandmother’s rich memories of Ireland, seeks friendship via an Irish pen pal site. She posts, “I’m an American lady wanting to learn more about Ireland. If you care to write back maybe you can learn about America while I learn about Ireland. Thank you.” Three days later, Oisin replies, and so begins their trans-Atlantic romance.

Kathleen and Oisin find great comfort sharing their lives and dreams, and Kathleen begins to love the man she has never met in person. There is an almost adolescent energy to their correspondence, their emails like notes passed in a high school classroom. Oisin, however, is not completely and immediately honest. He doesn’t mention that he’s married until Kathleen is deeply infatuated with him.

But Kathleen forgives Oisin, travels to Ireland and has an intense 10-day visit.

That’s the love story Matthew Sullivan reads in the diary he inherited from Kathleen. The second section of the novel is his own love story, including his marriage in Ireland to Meegan O’Shea.

The third love story in “The Rings of Kathleen” revolves around affection for Ireland. The descriptions of the County Cork village of Youghal and its population are rich and sympathetic.

In conversation with Enterprise editor Peter Crowley, Stiegman mentioned that her great-grandparents came from Ireland and, “My heart is in Ireland.” That fact is wonderfully clear in her novel.

Stiegman’s connection of the Kathleen and Matthew stories is clever, tying their early and later lives together. Still, each would work well as a stand-alone tale and benefit from an individual focus.


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