Once Upon a Time in England
British author Helen Walsh's second novel, Once Upon a Time in England, follows the Fitzgerald family--a working-class family from industrial Warrington. The family is composed of Robbie, the illiterate could-have-been singer/songwriter; his wife, Sheila (nee Susheela), the Malaysian exile who gives up her identity in order to conform; their son, Vincent, the closet homosexual with a penchant for writing and heroin; and daughter Ellie, the beautiful tomboy with an insatiable desire for trouble.
England begins on a cold winter night in 1975. Robbie spots Dickie Vaughan, a renowned talent manager, at a local bar. Eager for his big break in the music biz, Robbie forgoes his duties at home, leaving Sheila--his young, pregnant wife--home alone. After Robbie turns in the best performance of his life for Vaughan, he believes that his world will never be the same. And his life isn't, but not for the reasons that he presumes.
Robbie returns home to find his house burgled and his wife brutally beaten and raped, which Sheila keeps secret from him. "Reflexively, instinctively, she knew her young husband would not be able to cope with, would never recover from, the horror of a rape," Walsh writes. But Sheila's silence comes with a heavy price--one that affects not only her, but her entire family.
Walsh then flashes forward to 1981. The Fitzgeralds have relocated to suburbia, which appears to placate Sheila's fears. Although Vincent shares Robbie's passion for music, he prefers the company of the street-smart and rambunctious Ellie. Rejected by his father and ignored by his mother, Vincent becomes a recluse at a young age. Sheila spends her days trying desperately fit into their middle-class neighborhood but has lost touch with reality. And the family becomes a time bomb waiting to explode: "[Robbie] opened up his coat to the freeze and wished for the night to slay him dead, to still his heath before he woke. There was no hope. There was nothing left for him."
And just when you think life can't get any worse for the Fitzgeralds, it does. Once Upon a Time in England concludes in 1989, when the family faces its instability, and the novel becomes a gritty, satisfying depiction of a family falling apart.