Cover image for Mary and O'Neil
Title:
Mary and O'Neil
Author:
Cronin, Justin.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Dial Press, 2001.
Physical Description:
243 pages ; 22 cm
Language:
English
ISBN:
9780385333580
Format :
Book

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Summary

Summary

A luminous work of fiction that celebrates the uncommon in common lives, and the redemptive power of love. Mary and O'Neil frequently marveled at how, of all the lives they might have led, they had somehow found this one together. When they met at the Philadelphia high school where they'd come to teach, each had suffered a profound loss that had not healed. How likely was it that they could learn to trust, much less love, again? In Justin Cronin's tender, heartwise debut, eight stories trace the lives of these two vulnerable young people as they rediscover in each other a world alive with promise and hope. From the formative experiences of their early adulthood to marriage, parenthood, and beyond, each chapter illuminates the moments of grace that enable Mary and O'Neil to make peace with the deep emotional legacies that haunt them: the sudden, mysterious death of O'Neil's parents, Mary's long-ago decision to end a pregnancy, O'Neil's sister's battle with illness and a troubled marriage. Like the work of Alice Hoffman, Cronin's fiction resonates with magical nuance and unexpected encounters -- a beautiful young girl who appears to Mary one night, draped in a cloud of stars; an autistic child who reveals a life-changing secret; a woman O'Neil mistakenly dials the night their first child is born -- that edify this young couple's intimate bond and affirm their faith in the future.


Author Notes

Justin Cronin is a graduate of the Iowa Writer's Workshop, and a professor of creative writing at La Salle University in Philadelphia. His work has appeared in many literary journals.

(Publisher Provided) Justin Cronin was born and raised in New England. He is a graduate of Harvard University and the Iowa Writers' Workshop. He has written several books including The Summer Guest, The Passage Trilogy, and Mary and O'Neil, which won the PEN/Hemingway Award and the Stephen Crane Prize. He taught creative writing and was the author in-residence at La Salle University from 1992 to 2005. He is currently a professor of English at Rice University.

(Bowker Author Biography)


Reviews 3

Booklist Review

This is a story of fidelity, pregnancy, maturation, cancer, and death--all well-tread themes in current fiction. Presented as "a novel in stories," we meet a middle-aged couple coping with crises, whose troubles seem to be transferred inevitably onto their children. The bulk of the novel centers on one of these children, O'Neil, and his wife, Mary, and relays the happenings of their individual lives as they graduate from college, meet girls and boys, and eventually settle down with each other. The utilization of worn-out ideas often burdens the novel, restraining it from ever taking flight. But despite being heavy in places, the novel is generally well written. Cronin's use of language, when crisp and inventive, allows the characters a freedom to develop within the tired concepts, which in turn uplifts the novel. Although his literary influences frequently peek through, particularly his fondness for Updike, should first-novelist Cronin continue shaping his voice, he will be an author to keep your eyes open for. --Jeff Snowbarger


Publisher's Weekly Review

The title of Cronin's debut collection of eight interconnected stories, set between 1979 and the present, implies that the content will be devoted to the relationship between the eponymous duo. Instead, they don't appear in the same tale until halfway through, detailing their marriage in their early 30s after both become teachers. Before this, there's a lengthy opening story concerning the events leading up to the accidental death of O'Neil's parents, Arthur and Miriam; another story on how O'Neil and his older sister, Kay, cope with the aftermath; and a third about the abortion Mary has at the age of 22. After the wedding, the stories still don't always focus on the pair, with one devoted solely to Kay's own dysfunctional marriage. Cronin, a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, is an accomplished craftsman, and at times his prose is quite moving and beautiful, though the sadness he channels is too often uninflected by humor. Playing out variations on the theme of the inability of parents and children to truly know one another, Cronin is capable of creating fresh poignancy. Readers interested in going straight to the best of the collection should head for "Orphans" and "A Gathering of Shades," in which the author affectingly paints how the two siblings help each other through the pain of living and dying, showcasing the real love story here. Agent, Ellen Levine. (Feb. 13) Forecast: This is a promising debut collection, and national print advertising in the New Yorker and alternative weeklies should target the appropriate readership. Sponsorship announcements will also feature the title on NPR. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Library Journal Review

It is 1979, and 19-year-old O'Neil Burke has it all. He's in love, successful in college, and warmed by the affection of his parents and older sister Kay. After a weekend visiting their son, the Burkes, protecting each other from dark, unshared secrets, drive off an icy embankment and die. O'Neil's mounting losses include his girl, his career ambitions, and any sense of direction. Eventually, he finds his way back into a pleasant life, teaching high school English in Philadelphia and marrying Mary. More sorrow solidifies the bond between O'Neil and his sister when she fights a losing battle with cancer in her late thirties. Cronin's key mistake in this fine series of linked short stories about a family weathering crushing blows is indicated by his misleading title. Mary, who makes her first appearance nearly 100 pages into the book, is not nearly the presence that O'Neil, his parents, and his sister are. This is too bad, as the scenes between Mary and O'Neil are rich with affectionate humor, leaving the reader wanting more. Nevertheless, this is a worthy first effort by a novelist worth watching. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 10/1/00.]DBeth E. Andersen, Ann Arbor Dist. Lib., MI (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

Last of the Leaves November 1979 Arthur in darkness -- drifting, drifting -- the planet spinning toward dawn: he awakens in gray November daybreak to the sounds of running water and a great arm brushing the side of his house. The wind, he thinks, the wind; the end of autumn, the last of the leaves pulled away. The running water, he understands, was never real. He lies in the dark of the bedroom he shares with his wife, waiting for the dream to fade -- a dream in which, together, they sail over a cliff into blackness. What else? A sense of water below, a lake or stream, Miriam's hand in his, of everything loosed from the earth; a feeling like accomplishment, shapes fitting together with mathematical precision, all the equations of the heavens ringing. A dream of final happiness, in which they, Arthur and Miriam, together, at the last, die. Arthur rises, takes a wool sweater from the chair by his bed, pushes his feet into the warm pockets of his slippers. He draws the sweater over his head, his twisted pajama top; he puts on his glasses and pauses, letting his eyes, cakey with sleep, adjust. In the feeble, trembling light (The moon? A streetlamp? The day is hours off), he discerns the form of his wife, a crescent-shaped ridge beneath the blankets, and knows her face and body are turned away from him, toward the window, open two inches to admit a trail of cold night air. How is it possible he knows he is going to die? And that the thought does not grieve him? But the feeling, he believes, is just a tattered remnant of his dream, still near to him in the dark and cold of the predawn room, Arthur still, after all, in his pajamas; by breakfast it will recede, by lunchtime it will vanish altogether, dissolving into the day like a drop of iodine in water. Is it possible he is still asleep? And Arthur realizes this is probably true; he is fast asleep, standing in the icy bedroom, knees locked, his chin lolled forward into the downy fan of hair on his chest; he is, in fact, about to snore. ...To snore! And with this his head snaps to attention, his eyes fly open; he is, at last and truly, awake, dropped as if from a great height to land, perfectly uninjured, here. The living, breathing Arthur. But to be fifty-six years old, and dream of death, and not be afraid; this thought has somehow survived the journey into Arthur's encroaching day, hardening to a kernel of certainty in his heart. He shakes his head at the oddness of this fact, then at the coldness of the room, Christ Almighty; even in the dark Arthur can see his breath billowing before him like a cloud of crystals. Below the blue bulk of their bedding his wife adjusts herself, pulling the blankets tighter, as if to meet his thought; a hump disengages itself from the small of her back, travels the width of the mattress to Arthur's side, and vanishes with the sound of four paws striking the wide-plank floor. A flash of blond tail: the cat, Nestor, awakened from its spot between them, darts through the bedskirts and is gone. Enough, Arthur thinks; onward. He closes the window -- a sudden silence, the wind sealed away from him -- and departs the bedroom, shutting the door with a muffled snap. Behind it his wife will sleep for hours. Downstairs, his mind on nothing, Arthur fills a carafe with water from the kitchen sink, pours it into the coffeemaker, scoops the fragrant dirt of ground beans into the paper filter, and turns on the machine; he sits at the table and waits. Dear God, he thinks, thank you for this day, this cup of coffee (not long now; the machine, sighing good-naturedly to life, exhales a plume of steam and releases a ricocheting stream into the pot), and while we're at it, God, thank you for the beauty of this time of year, the leaves on the trees by the river where I walked yesterday, thank you for the sky and earth, which you, I guess, in your wisdom, will have to cover with snow for a while, so we don't forget who's boss. I like the winter fine, but it would be nice if it wasn't a bad one. This is just a suggestion. Amen. Arthur opens his eyes; a pale light has begun to gather outside, deepening his view of the sloping yard and the tangle of woods beyond. He pours the coffee, spoons in sugar, softens its color with a dollop of milk; he stands at the counter and drinks. Not a bad one, please. Today is the day they will drive six hours north to see their son, a sophomore in college, lately and totally (or so he says, his voice on the phone as bright as a cork shot from a bottle: totally, Pop) in love. Arthur doesn't doubt this is the case, and why should he? What the hell? Why not be in love? He sits at the kitchen table, dawn creeping up to his house; he thinks of the long day and the drive through mountains ahead of him, the pleasure he will feel when, his back and eyes sore from hours on the road, he pulls into the dormitory lot and his boy, long legged and smiling and smart, bounds down the stairs to greet them. In the foyer with its bulletin boards and scuffed linoleum and pay phone, the young lady watches them through the dirty glass. Susan? Suzie? Arthur reviews the details. Parents from Boston, JV field hockey first string (again the memory of his son's voice, brightly laughing: But her ankles aren't thick, the way they get, you know, Pop?); an English class they took together, Shakespeare or Shelley or Pope, and the way she read a certain poem in class, the thrilling confidence in her voice cementing the erotic bargain between them. (I mean, she looked right at me, Pop, the whole time, I think she had the thing memorized; you should have seen it, the whole class knew!) And Arthur knows what his son is saying to him: Here I am. Look. And Arthur does: Susan or Suzie (Sarah?), fresh from her triumphs of love and smarts in the marbled halls of academe, banging the hard rubber ball downfield on the bluest blue New Hampshire autumn day. Excerpted from Mary and O'Neil by Justin Cronin 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.