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The Stories of Mary Gordonby Mary Gordon
Synopses & Reviews
The masterly stories of Mary Gordon return us to the pleasure of this writer's craft and to her monumental talent as an observer of character and of the ever-fading American Dream. These pieces encompass the pre- and postwar Irish American family life she circles in the early Temporary Shelter series, as well as a wealth of new fiction that brings her contemporary characters into middle age; it is their turn to face bodily decline, mortality, and the more complex anxieties of modern life. Gordon captures the sharp scent of feelings as they shift, the shape of particular lives in their hope and incomprehensibility.
In "The Neighborhood," a seven-year-old who has lost her father finds birthday parties, with their noisy games and spun-sugar roses on fancy cakes, her greatest trial. "City Life" explores the dark side of Manhattan apartment living. "Intertextuality" proposes a dream meeting between Proust's characters and the author's aging grandmother.
Throughout, Gordon's surprising path to the center of a story is as much a part of the tale as the self-understanding her characters achieve in the process: "What were they all, any of them, feeling?" one narrator ventures. "This was the sort of question no one in my family would ask. Feelings were for others: the weak, the idle. We were people who got on with things."
With their powerful insights into how we make do, both socially and privately, these stories are a treasure of American fiction. Each is a joy to read and a chance to savor Gordon's clear vision: her ability to reveal at every turn what we need and what we wish for, and her willingness, always, to address what comes of such precious wishes.
"This book collects 41 tough-minded explorations into human hope, loss and failings by the award-winning author of six novels (including 1978's Final Payments), a memoir and a life of Joan of Arc. Her quietly desperate protagonists range from a mother unable to leave her child alone at school (in 'Separation') to a 74-year-old widow who revisits Italy in search of her youth, only to face her mortality ('Death in Naples'). 'My Podiatrist Tells Me a Story About a Boy and a Dog,' although lighter in tone than many of the entries, concludes with a devastating comment on female desire and later life. Characters are frequently silent, letting their yearnings speak louder than they, and many of the people who inhabit this collection want nothing but to be left alone, if only because it's all that remains to them. Themes of Catholicism, Irish-American families and women struggling with self-image and convoluted relationships concern the deftly delineated characters. Gordon is a master of nuance. Gripping and memorable, this collection, half of which is new or uncollected work, is a study in human connection and the lack of it. (Oct.)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"For more than 30 years Mary Gordon has delivered incisive tales of Catholic guilt and immigrant woe, of women's worlds and lost fathers and hidden lives. In this robust collection, which recycles stories from an earlier book of short fiction but adds new and previously uncollected pieces, those familiar themes sound again. And who can resist them, put forth as they are with Gordon's consummate writerly... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) grace? Who can not feel for Lorna, the melancholy 70-something heroine of 'Death in Naples,' as she wanders the streets of the Italian city in her Ferragamos and wool slacks, worrying about how to fill her days? Abandoned on vacation by her son and daughter-in-law, who ditch her for a work emergency, Lorna tries to recapture the feelings she had when she and her late husband traveled to Italy. It can't be done, of course — the world has changed, and she must confront her anachronistic existence alone. Or try dismissing Joan, the ultracompetent school principal nun at the heart of 'The Deacon,' who wrestles with her distaste for Gerard, a useless, slightly stupid teacher in her school whom no one cares about. Except perhaps, Joan thinks, for God. God hovers often in Gordon's writing, of course, but usually distantly, impalpably; no deus ex machina He, but a presence projected by the people (mostly women) who yearn for Him, such as Maria, the would-be Carmelite of 'Temporary Shelter,' whose Jewish father (like Gordon's) converted to Catholicism. And just as they're the ones to seek Him most avidly, the women are the ones most resentful when God fails to show up. Gordon's fiction is peopled by these unhappy women — beaten down grandmothers, scarred adolescent girls, women grown to adulthood who still believe the past will come back and swallow them up. It's serious stuff, all right. But not, thank Heaven, unrelievedly somber. Gordon's message is earnest, but her touch can be surprisingly light. Check out sweet Irish Kathleen's not-quite-dire predicament after she brings some friends from America home for a visit to County Clare in 'The Baby.' Or the sly foot doctor in 'My Podiatrist Tells Me a Story About a Boy and a Dog.' 'I called the dog Brownie because she was brown,' he deadpans, relating the story about the pet he found in the Adirondacks as a boy. 'Even at that time I had a terrific imagination.' And so does Mary Gordon. Zofia Smardz is an assistant editor of The Washington Post's Outlook section." Reviewed by Zofia Smardz, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"Viewed as a whole, this collection is remarkable for its sheer variety of subject and setting." Boston Globe
"Several of the collection's shorter, more impressionistic pieces are heavy on whimsy and light on substance....Throughout the book, there are many happy surprises: an original and pragmatic point of view, a distinctive intermingling of humor and tragedy, a high level of empathy." New York Times
"It's a rich introduction...to Gordon's talent, filled with the themes she has explored elsewhere in her work, told here in miniature. Her characters confront that which haunts them, take journeys into their pasts, struggle to maintain a toehold in a sometimes bewildering world." Seattle Times
"Gordon's stories do not spill out on the page. But there is a point in each where the writer opens her fist to let the story fly out. This is where they become voluptuous." Los Angeles Times
"A Mary Gordon short story is neither facile nor moralizing. She lays the story out — beautifully crafted, elegantly written — and the reader takes it from there." San Diego Union-Tribune
"Her prose is so precise that she is not to be skimmed, but slowly savored." Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
From an admired writer comes this comprehensive collection of superb short fiction, spanning her entire career.
About the Author
Mary Gordon is the author of six novels, including Final Payments and Pearl; a memoir, The Shadow Man; and an earlier collection of stories, Temporary Shelter. She has received a Lila WallaceReader's Digest Writers' Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the 1997 O. Henry Award for Best Story, and an Academy Award for Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She teaches at Barnard College and lives in New York City.
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