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'Apologize, Apologize!': A Rollicking Family Affair

On the surface, Elizabeth Kelly's debut novel, Apologize, Apologize!, is the story of a boy who becomes a man. But beneath that still narrative is a roiling tale of eccentric egos, comedy and tragedy — featuring a menagerie of animals that seem smarter than humans.

The narrator, Collie Flanagan, shares his name with a breed of dog, thanks to his mother, a cantankerous woman who is obsessed with canines and not particularly fond of human beings. Rounding out the Flanagan clan are Collie's philandering, drunken father, his newspaper-magnate grandfather, his down-to-earth Uncle Tom and his glamorous brother Bing.

Although Collie's family seems extreme, Kelly tells Liane Hansen she doesn't consider them dysfunctional: "If anything, I would say they're hyper-functional. Everything works the way that they want it to work."

In addition to its cast of human characters, Apologize, Apologize! includes a host of sometimes preternaturally intelligent animals, including a pigeon that manages to find its way home by walking on railroad tracks. Kelly jokes that she included the pigeon in the book because she "wanted to do something to elevate the modest pigeon. ... I think I've always somewhat identified with the pigeon."

Behind the colorful characters — human and animal — are themes of courage, redemption and growing up. Kelly emphasizes, however, that she didn't want redemption to be portrayed as a permanent resolution in the book.

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

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