Cover image for The tender land : a family love story
The tender land : a family love story
Finneran, Kathleen.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Boston : Houghton Mifflin Co., 2000.
Physical Description:
x, 285 pages ; 22 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HV6546 .F53 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
HV6546 .F53 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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A superb portrait of family life, THE TENDER LAND is a love story unlike any other. The Finnerans -- parents and five children, Irish Catholics in St. Louis -- are a seemingly unexceptional family. Theirs is a story seldom told, yet it makes manifest how rich and truly extraordinary the ordinary daily experience we take for granted is. In quietly luminous language, Kathleen Finneran renders the emotional, spiritual, and physical terrain of family life -- its closeness and disconnection, itsintimacy and estrangement--and pays tribute to the love between parents and children, brothers and sisters.
Ultimately, it is this love that sustains the Finnerans, for at the heart of THE TENDER LAND lies a catastrophic event: the suicide at fifteen of the author's younger brother after a public humiliation in junior high school. A gentle, handsome boy, Sean was a straight-A student and gifted athlete, especially treasured by every member of his family. Masterfully, the book interweaves past and present, showing how inseparable they are, and how the long accumulation of love and memory helps theFinnerans survive their terrible loss.
THE TENDER LAND is a testament to the always complicated ways in which we love one another. In the end, the Finnerans are a family much like the reader's own: like every other family, like no other family.

Author Notes

Kathleen Finneran has received a Whiting Award and a Guggenheim fellowship. A graduate of Washington University, she lives in St. Louis

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

Unforgettable in its restraint and quiet beauty, Finneran's debut memoir lovingly reveals her family's tragic history and her own painful coming of age. Born in the late 1950s into an Irish Catholic family, she and her four siblings had a comfortable life in suburban St. Louis, thanks to her mother's thrifty management and her father's success as a salesman. But depression and suicide ran in the family and the question of what caused her youngest brother Sean's suicide when he was 15 permeates the book as much as it has haunted the Finnerans--Kathleen was also disposed to depression and another sister tried to overdose at age 28. As a self-conscious, overweight child, the author at times felt ignored by her parents. Nonetheless, at a young age she understood the need to protect her mother from sorrow, so she "made up stories." Sadly for the author, her first sexual experience coincided with the night Sean died, making sex and death forever inextricable for her. She found comfort with a woman lover who was her best friend, despite her mother's cautious warning about being "different." Readers will relish Finneran's skill in capturing her characters. "My mother," she writes, "ends each day this way, dusting in the dark, and in the morning, as soon as she wakes, she dusts again, in daylight." To Sean's suicide note, which disclosed teenage loneliness and disappointments, Finneran offers an exquisite counterpoint in the form of this love letter. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Booklist Review

Just after Christmas in 1982, when he was 15, Finneran's younger brother, Sean, killed himself by taking an overdose of their father's heart medicine. Finneran's story, though, is essentially a love story of a family whose offhand tenderness and care for one another cannot be obliterated, not by depression, not even by death. There were five Finneran children growing up in St. Louis, Sean and Kelly much younger than the other three. A strain of what their mother calls "sadness" ran through the family, easily recognizable in these Prozac-saturated times but heartbreaking nonetheless. Finneran spirals stories of her sweet, affable brother--his devotion to their little niece; his affinity for all small creatures--with the deadly darkness that descended on him after a humiliating moment on the school basketball court. Her parents and her siblings come vividly into view in the kind of stories people tell about one another around the kitchen table. Love, faith, prayer, the terrible congruence of sex and death--literal in Finneran's case--make a kind of memento mori like no other. If Sean is an angel, as his mother believes, he is surely alight with the joy of his sister's devotion and her own victory over the demons he knew. --GraceAnne A. DeCandido

Library Journal Review

Finneran, the middle child in an Irish Catholic family residing in St. Louis, presents a loving portrait of her family. Nine years separate Finneran from her next youngest sibling, Sean. Finneran transports the reader to various points in her family history, moving effortlessly between years and related events in clear and detailed writing. The Finnerans exist as a loving yet unremarkable family until Sean's suicide at age 15. Finneran's portraits of Sean, her other siblings, her parents, and herself in the wake of Sean's death are notable for their honesty and emotion. She details her own struggles with depression and suicidal thoughts while trying desperately to shoulder the burden of her brother's sudden death. The result is an absorbing and thoughtful memoir and an outstanding first book. Highly recommended.--Dianna White, OCLC/WLN Pacific Northwest Svc. Ctr., Lacey, WA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



The Evidence of Angels To those who have seen The Child, however dimly, however incredulously, The Time Being is, in a sense, the most trying time of all. - W. H. Auden My mother believes she gave birth to an angel. She told me so when I stopped by one day for lunch, and though we have never discussed it, I imagine she told Michael, Mary, and Kelly just as matter-of- factly. "I think there was a reason he was only here for a short time," she said. "I think he was an angel sent to save someone." My father was sitting across from me at the kitchen table. From merely looking at his face, I can usually tell exactly what he is thinking, especially if anything has been said that either of us might consider questionable. He has communicated silently with me since I was a child, staring at me from across a room or in the rearview mirror of the car until I look up to see what he wants to tell me. It is an unspoken language of astonishment, criticism, and condemnation. It has always kept us close. The first time my father communicated with me this way I was five. He had picked me up from kindergarten. Usually my mother picked me up, but it was a beautiful fall day, and even though he was still in the construction business, and good weather was a commodity, my father was splendidly carefree sometimes, coming home early and taking us on long drives to undisclosed destinations, special places he wanted to show us. But before we could go to wherever we were going that day, we had to drop off a boy in my class. His mother drove us to school and mine drove us home. When he saw that my father had come instead, the boy ran for the front seat, where I usually sat, so I climbed in back and sat behind my father. As he started the car, my father looked at me in the rearview mirror as if to say he recognized what the boy had done, usurping the seat that should have been mine. When we got to his house, the boy told my father to pull all the way up to the top of the driveway, as close to the front door as he could. "Closer. A little closer," the boy said. It was something my mother did every day without direction, the boy having instructed her the first time we took him home. He hated to walk any farther than he had to. Now the boy sat up high in the front seat to see out past the hood of the car, saying, "Just a few more feet." My father looked at me in the rearview mirror again. "Here is a real baby," his eyes said. I felt privileged then, and I didn't fight for the front seat later that day, as I usually did when we picked up Michael and Mary from North American Martyrs, the school I would go to the following year when I started first grade. Instead, I stayed in the back to watch in the rearview mirror for anything else my father might want to tell me. It was almost twenty years later, and many words had passed unspoken between us by the time my mother revealed her belief that my younger brother, Sean, was an angel. It was a few weeks Excerpted from The Tender Land: A Family Love Story by Kathleen Finneran All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

The Evidence of Angelsp. 1
Two Summersp. 22
New Year's Day, 1990p. 149
As My Father Retiresp. 171
Acts of Faith and Other Mattersp. 225
The Tender Landp. 276