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Pearl: A Novelby Mary Gordon
Synopses & Reviews
From the acclaimed author of Final Payments comes a gripping novel of filial devotion and complication between a mother and daughter who, together and separately, must face the ultimate questions of life and death.
"Gordon's latest novel opens in medias res on Christmas night in New York City with a phone call from the State Department. Maria Meyers's 20-year-old daughter, Pearl, supposedly studying linguistics for a year in Ireland, has chained herself to a flagpole outside the American embassy in Dublin. For reasons that are unclear, she has starved herself for six weeks and is now in serious danger of dying from dehydration. Without understanding Pearl's motivation for the hunger strike, Maria must try and save her daughter's life. Readers of Gordon's fiction (Spending; The Company of Women) and memoir (The Shadow Man) will recognize familiar themes in her latest book: Maria is a single mother raised as a Catholic by her converted Jewish father; she comes of age in the 1960s and trades her religion for that era's brand of critical thinking. Now, with her daughter dying, Maria must re-examine her faith, her parenting and her political ideals. Told by an unidentified first-person narrator, the story unfolds over the course of a few days. Even as the life-or-death crisis comes to a head, Maria and her best friend, Joseph, are busy tackling God, sacrifice, female autonomy and the meaning of happiness. The novel's conceit provides plenty of opportunities for philosophical musing, but given this set of morose and mostly unlikable characters, the relentless self-examination grows tedious. Agent Peter Matson at Sterling Lord Literistic. 7-city author tour. (Jan. 11)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Receiving a call from the State Department that her daughter Pearl has been protesting global violence by chaining herself to a flagpole at the American embassy in Dublin and refusing to eat, liberal New Yorker and single mother Maria Meyers heads to Ireland to save her daughter, while Pearl's surrogate father, Joseph Kasperman, flies in from Rome to help. 50,000 first printing.
We may as well begin with the ride home.
It is Christmas night, 1998. The ending of a day that was not unseasonable, except in its failure to fulfill the sentimental wish for spur-of-the moment snow. The sky: gray; the air: cold, with a high of 33 degrees Fahrenheit. Palpable winter but not winter at its worst. Fewer of the poor than usual died on that day of causes traceable to the weather. Perhaps the relatively unimpressive showing of weather-related deaths was due to the relative clemency of the air, the relative windlessness, the relative benevolence that could be counted on by the poor to last, perhaps, eight days, December twenty-fourth through the first of January.
Ten o'clock Christmas night. Four friends drive south on the way home after a day of celebration. They have had Christmas dinner at the house of other friends, a weekend and vacation house in the mountains north of New York. One couple sits in the front of a brown Honda Accord, the other in the back. They are all in their fifties. All of their children are on other continents: one in Brazil, working on an irrigation project; one in Japan, teaching English; one in Ireland studying the Irish language at Trinity College. They were determined not to have a melancholy Christmas, and for the most part they have not.
They leave Maria Meyers off first since she lives in the most northerly part of the city or, as they would say, the farthest uptown.
She opens the door of her apartment on the sixth or top floor of a building on the corner of La Salle Street and Claremont Avenue, a block west of Broadway, a block south of 125th Street, on the margins of Harlem, at the tip end of the force field of Columbia University. Before she takes off her brown boots lined with tan fur, her green down coat, her rose-colored scarf, her wool beret, also rose, she sees the red light of her answering machine.
Her heart lifts. She reads the red light as a message from her daughter, who has not, after all, forgotten to call on Christmas. She probably thought her mother would be home all day; Christmas has never been spent anywhere but at home.
In the darkness, seeing with clarity one thing only, the blinking red light that means her daughter's voice, Maria knows that when she flips the light switch she will be illumining a place nothing like the house she grew up in. Purposely, deliberately unlike. Walls painted orange-yellow. Woven fabrics from Guatemala, carved wooden angels--green and pink--from Poland, and from Cambodia a tin demon, her protector.
She drapes her coat, her hat, her scarf over the chair covered with a slipcover the color of a green apple. She sits on the footrest in front of it, on woven triangles of magenta, cobalt, rust. She takes off her boots, which made her feet so uncomfortably overheated in the car. She is greedy for the sound of her daughter's voice, her greed a tooth that bites down hard. Her stocking feet are slippery on the pine floor. She'd been more hurt than she wanted to admit that Pearl hadn't returned her call, hadn't made contact before she left for the countryside. But that was what she wanted, wasn't it? A daughter who did not feel obligated, who felt free to pursue her life, her interests, her pleasures, her adventures. She'd imagined Pearl sitting in a basement kitchen around a table of students toasting one another with cheap red wine, filling plate after plate wit
About the Author
Mary Gordon is the author of the novels Spending, The Company of Women, The Rest of Life, Final Payments, and The Other Side, as well as the memoir The Shadow Man. She has received a Lila Wallace—Reader’s Digest Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the 1997 O. Henry Award for best story. She teaches at Barnard College and lives in New York City.
Table of Contents
The call — Travelers — Dubliners.
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