Synopses & Reviews
Nuala O'Faolain, the author of three consecutive New York Times
bestsellers, has come upon a story that is not only a perfect match for her literary gifts but also takes her career in a surprising and rich new direction. This Irish woman writer who achieved international fame with a remarkably candid appraisal of her own unorthodox life has taken as her subject another daughter of Ireland this one a notorious criminal and unrepentant, independent woman.
The legend says that May was a tall girl with glorious hair and big blue eyes, compellingly attractive to men. At nineteen, she stole her family's savings and ran away from her home in rural Ireland to America first Nebraska, then Chicago at the time of the World's Fair, and then on to New York. In these new American cities, she worked as a grifter, a confidence trickster, a prostitute, a sometime showgirl earned her moniker and was hailed in tabloids as "Queen of the Underworld." And then she fell in love with a big-league criminal, followed him to Paris where they successfully robbed the American Express, then were apprehended, tried, and sent to prison. May survived prison, returned to America, and was reborn again and again falling in love, lapsing back into the criminal life, flirting with legitimacy, writing her memoirs.
O'Faolain brings a sympathetic scrutiny to this extraordinary life story, reaching across the decades for points of connection and understanding. May was born in post-famine Ireland and died in the world of telephones, sportscars, and movies, in 1929, just before the stock-market crash. Is there a woman's experience they can share? An Irishwoman's experience? An outsider's? In the hands of one of our most astute and gifted memoirists, The Story of Chicago May is not only a tale well-told, but an inquiry into the telling of any life story. "There are pioneer journeys still to be made to the edge of the territory where we know how to be sympathetic," O'Faolain writes. "Shine the beam of attention out there and the dark recoils, and the frontier of human settlement moves forward."
"A deeply absorbing account....[W]hat makes The Story of Chicago May so compelling is the earnestness (and finely detailed writing) with which O'Faolain searches for the authentic May in a story easy to mythologize." Chicago Tribune
"Nuala O'Faolain does her countrywoman proud: She resurrects this remarkable woman and the world she knew with breathtaking prose." Philadelphia Inquirer
"This is not only a thorough portrait of a woman on the wrong path; it is also a fresh and informative view of turn-of-the-twentieth-century America, and fascinating testimony to the need to tell and preserve true stories from all walks of life." Booklist
"A biography with narrative muscle and thrilling historical relevance." Kirkus Reviews
"O'Faolain provides insights into the lives of single immigrant women of May's generation and offers suggestions as to why so many were driven to lives of crime....[A]n exciting read." Library Journal
The story of a female outlaw like no other in history-by the acclaimed #1 New York Times
Legend says that May was tall with red-gold hair and big blue eyes, compellingly attractive to men. At nineteen, she stole her family's savings and ran away from home in rural Ireland to America where she worked as a confidence trickster, a thief, a showgirl, and a prostitute, notorious as much for her violence as for her diamond rings. The tabloids would dub her "The Queen of the Underworld." Reaching across the decades for points of connection, Nuala O'Faolain brings sympathetic scrutiny to the understanding of an outlaw experience like no other.
A unique, ruminative biography a fascinating excursion into the American underworld at the dawn of the twentieth century, the life of an unrespectable Irish woman, and the hidden inner life of any woman who has tried to choose the unconventional path by the author of the New York Times bestsellers Are You Somebody?.
A Radiant Life presents the unequivocal voice of Nuala O'Faolain tackling a vast range of subjects from Catholicism to feminism, from Sinatra to Africa, and from Irish American culture to Islam and the West. Curious and funny, tender and scathing, O'Faolain's columns were never less than trenchant and were always passionate. "I was blinded by the habit of translating everything into personal terms," she writes apologetically, but this is the power of her journalism. Through the prism of casual, everyday encounters, O'Faolain presses her subject, reaching beyond the prompting of the moment to transcend topicality. The result is a cumulative historical narrative, an inadvertent chronicle of a transformed Ireland by one of its sharpest observers and canniest critics.
About the Author
O'Faolain has been a waitress, sales clerk, and maid; a university lecturer; a TV producer; and, most recently, a columnist with The Irish Times.