- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
In unassailably well-crafted prose, novelist Justin Cronin offers us the story of an ordinary family placed under extraordinary circumstances and held together by the solid footing of love and intimacy. Remember how deeply moving Terms of Endearment was? The 1983 movie, starring Shirley MacLaine and Debra Winger, brought the emotional and physical realities of cancer out from behind closed doors, taking on the complexities of family relations under extraordinary circumstances, breaking ground in its portrayal of mothers and daughters. And it explored what it means to keep on living and find happiness in the face of death. This is the territory of Justin Cronin's debut novel, Mary and O'Neil.
We first meet O'Neil through the eyes of his parents, whose powerful story of married love opens the novel. O'Neil is a bright, athletic, good-natured college sophomore, the apple of his parents' eye. Their road trip to his college for parents' weekend becomes a crucible for the family's emotional quandaries, both expressed and unexpressed. After 30 years of happy marriage, Arthur has just passed unscathed (or at least uncompromised) through his first bout with adulterous temptation. Miriam has an acorn-sized lump on her breast that she hasn't told anyone about. Neither of them knows exactly how to adjust to the adulthood of their children, particularly their new adult relationships. Miriam can't bring herself to trust her daughter, Kay's, new husband, and Arthur experiences surges of alpha-male defensiveness when he meets his son's new girlfriend. Both Miriam and Arthur are taking their first tentative steps toward growing old together, reconciling their differences and affections in a very slow but tender dance toward the inevitable.
Beyond the life and destiny of their parents lie the unfolding lives of O'Neil and Kay. O'Neil casts about -- as most of us do -- throughout his 20s, losing his footing and finding it again when he begins to build a family of his own. A paragon of classical reversal, Mary -- O'Neil's devoted wife, the mother of three, a driven graduate student -- is, when we first meet her, an aimless waitress, pregnant out of wedlock and indifferent to the baby's father. O'Neil's marriage to Mary is his bedrock as he finds himself confronted with the horrible prospect of losing his sister, now a divorced mother of three, to cancer. As the last palpable traces of O'Neil's happy, supposedly normal childhood in suburban New York fade with Kay's agonized death, O'Neil comes to understand and acknowledge the unalterable permanence of those bonds that are formed in love.
Minna Proctor is a writer and translator. She lives in New York