Temporary Shelter: Short Stories

Temporary Shelter: Short Stories

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by Mary Gordon
     
 

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A book of profound and candid stories by one of America’s best novelists
Temporary Shelter
is a collection of twenty expertly crafted short stories by Mary Gordon. The characters here are of diverse ages, classes, and nationalities, yet all are alike in their desperate need of safe harbor. A crippled girl must contend not only with disability,…  See more details below

Overview

A book of profound and candid stories by one of America’s best novelists
Temporary Shelter
is a collection of twenty expertly crafted short stories by Mary Gordon. The characters here are of diverse ages, classes, and nationalities, yet all are alike in their desperate need of safe harbor. A crippled girl must contend not only with disability, but also with her toxic mother and aunts, who block her on the path to maturity. Elsewhere, a woman afflicted by a fearful anxiety that has given her a “death in life” grapples with how not to pass the same curse on to her daughter.
As in Gordon’s acclaimed novels, these stories dissect fraught relationships between men and women, from the shattering effects of divorce to marriages turned numb and cold. Skillfully and empathetically plumbing her characters’ depths, Gordon yields rare catharsis with Temporary Shelter

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The 22 stories that make up this distinguished collection reaffirm Gordon's ability to create fully dimensional characters who speak in a variety of authentic voices. Though the narratives are poetically compressed, Gordon eschews minimalism and uses incident to sustain narrative energy. In a trio of linked vignettes, ``Eileen,'' ``Agnes'' and ``Delia,'' and in ``The Neighborhood'' and ``The Friends of the O'Reilley's'' Gordon shows once again that she understands her Irish characters to their very souls, and she subtly conveys the hold of religion on their subconscious. Many of the stories are seen through the eyes of children trying to fathom ``the incomprehensible maze of adult life''; in one, a little girl imagines she has a thorn in her heart in which she has captured her dead father's voice. The strongest stories, notably ``Now I Am Married'' and ``Out of the Fray,'' are about women who have known or who fear the agonizing limbo of divorce, the sundering of relationships, the final abandonment of death. In most of the tales, their protagonists learn costly lessons about their futures, gaining insights into the ``pain and trouble'' of life; the young boy of the title story is anguished when his concept of security is wrenched away. ``A Writing Lesson,'' an ironic analysis of modern fiction, closes the collection. (April 10)
Library Journal
This rich collection of 22 stories follows Gordon's well-received third novel, Men and Angels ( LJ 3/15/85). The stories plumb the depths of human relations, both in marriage and family, exhibiting a rare understanding of the subtleties involved. Here, characters are not sleek, glossy, and brittle, as in many modern stories, but warm, flawed, and eminently real. Thus, in ``Billy,'' a divorced mother of three boys learns of the suicide of the son of her mother's best friend, once a flashy young man to her adolescent perceptions, and the complexities of her reaction are presented with wondrous truth and detail. This first collection of stories will only enhance the growing reputation of one of our best contemporary fiction writers. Ann H. Fisher, Radford P.L., Va.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781480415003
Publisher:
Open Road Media
Publication date:
08/06/2013
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
213
Sales rank:
1,047,782
File size:
1 MB

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Temporary Shelter

Short Stories


By Mary Gordon

OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA

Copyright © 1987 Mary Gordon
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4804-1500-3



CHAPTER 1

TEMPORARY SHELTER


He hated the way his mother piled the laundry. The way she held the clothes, as if it didn't matter. And he knew what she would say if he said anything, though he would never say it. But if he said, "Don't hold the clothes like that, it's ugly, how you hold them. See the arms of Dr. Meyers' shirt, they hang as if he had no arms, as if he'd lost them. And Maria's dress, you let it bunch like that, as if you never knew her." If he said a thing like that, which he would never do, she'd laugh and store it up to tell her friends. She'd say, "My son is crazy in love. With both of them. Even the stinking laundry he's in love with." And she would hit him on the side of the head, meaning to be kind, to joke, but she would do it wrong, the blow would be too hard. His ears would ring, and he would hate her.

Then he would hate himself, because she worked so hard, for him; he knew it was for him. Why did she make him feel so dreadful? He was thirteen, he was old enough to understand it all, where they had come from, who they were, and why she did things. She wanted things for him. A good life, better than what she had. Better than Milwaukee, which they'd left for the shame of her being a woman that a man had left. It wasn't to be left by a man that she'd come to this country, that her parents brought her on the ship, just ten years old, in 1929, when they should have stayed home, if they'd had sense, that year that turned out to be so terrible for the Americans. For a few months, it was like a heaven, with her cousins in Chicago. Everybody saying: Don't worry, everyone needs shoes. Her father was a cobbler. But then the crash, and no one needed shoes, there were no jobs, her mother went out to do strangers' laundry, and her father sat home, his head in his hands before the picture of the Black Madonna and tried to imagine some way they could go back home.

"And I was never beautiful," his mother said, and he believed that that was something he would have to make up to her. Someday when he was a man. Yes, he would have to make it up to her, and yet she said it proudly, as if it meant that everything she'd got she had got straight. And he would have to make it up to her because his father who'd lived off her money and sat home on his behind had left them both without a word. When he, Joseph, was six months old. And he would have to make it up to her that she had come to work for Dr. Meyers, really a Jew—once you were one you always were one—though he said he was a Catholic, and the priests knelt at his feet because he was so educated. And he would have to make it up to her because he loved the Meyers, Doctor and Maria. When he was with them, happiness fell on the three of them like a white net of cloud and set them off apart from all the others. Yes, someday he would have to make it up to her because he loved the Meyers in the lightness of his heart, while in his heart there was so often mockery and shame for his mother.

He couldn't remember a time when he hadn't lived with the Meyers in White Plains. His mother got the job when he was two, answering an ad that Dr. Meyers had put in the Irish Echo. No Irish had applied, so Dr. Meyers hired Joseph's mother, Helen Kaszperkowski, because, he had explained with dignity, it was important to him that the person who would be caring for his daughter shared the Faith. Joseph was sure he must have said "The Faith" in the way he always said it when he talked about the Poles to Joseph and his mother. "I believe they are, at present, martyrs to the Faith." He would speak of Cardinal Mindszenty, imprisoned in his room, heroically defying Communism. But the way Dr. Meyers said, "The Faith" made Joseph feel sorry for him. It was a clue, if anyone was looking for clues, that he had not been born a Catholic, and all those things that one breathed in at Catholic birth he'd had to learn, as if he had been learning a new language.

But of course no one would have to search for clues, the doctor never tried to hide that he was a Jew, or had been born a Jew, as he would say. He would tell the story of his conversion calmly, unfurling it like a bolt of cloth, evenly, allowing it to shine, allowing the onlooker to observe, without his saying anything, the pattern in the fabric. He had converted in the 1920s, when he had been studying art, in Italy, in a city called Siena. Joseph had looked up Siena in Dr. Meyers' atlas. He had been pleased when Dr. Meyers came into the library and found him there, rubbing his finger in a circle round the area that was Siena, touching the dark spot that marked it, as if he were a blind child. He was seven then, and Dr. Meyers took him on his lap. How comfortably he fit there, on Dr. Meyers' lean, dry lap, a lap of safety.

Not like his mother's lap, which he had to share with her stomach. Holding Joseph on his lap and not afraid to kiss a little boy the way all of Joseph's uncles were, Dr. Meyers showed him the pictures in the book of Cimabue and Simone Martini and explained to him the silence and the holiness, the grandeur and the secrecy. He used the pictures for his business now, his business in liturgical greeting cards, holy pictures, stationery. The business that had bought him this house and all these things. And Joseph understood why he had left his family (his family said he could never see them again) and all he had been born to. For the quiet sad-faced mothers and their dark commanding baby sons.

He understood it all; so did Maria. They had loved it all, the silence and the grandeur, since they had been small, before they went to school when Dr. Meyers took them with him to Daily Mass, the only children there, kneeling together, looking, very still as every other person rose and went up to Communion. They made up lives for all the people, and they talked about them even when they no longer went to Daily Mass; when they were older, in the parish school, they talked about those people. The woman who was always pregnant (they said expecting, thinking it more polite) and the crippled woman, and the Irish man who wore a cap, and the old, the very old Italian lady dressed entirely in black who sat at the very back of the church and said the Rosary out loud, in Italian, during the whole mass, even during the silence of the Consecration. But the person they thought of most and considered most theirs was the very small woman who was extremely clean. They imagined her in her small house alone (they were sure she lived alone), brushing her hat, her black felt hat with the feather band around it, brushing her purple coat with its velvet collar and buttons of winking glass, polishing her old lady's shoes till they looked beautiful. Then putting on her hat without looking in the mirror because if she did she would have to see the horror that was her face. For on the side of her nose grew a shiny hard-skinned fruit, larger than a walnut, but a purple color. Joseph and Maria talked about it, never once mentioning it to Dr. Meyers. They thought that the woman must be a saint, because, despite the terrible cross God had given her, her face was as sweet as an angel's. Joseph thought that Maria, too, must be a saint because she never lost her patience with his mother, although she lost patience with everything else. His mother was terrible to Maria; every day of her life she was terrible. If he didn't know how good a woman his mother was, and how much she loved the Meyers and how grateful she was to them, he would think she hated Maria. That was how she acted. It was mainly because Maria was sloppy, she really was, his mother was right, much as he loved her, much as he thought Maria was a saint, he knew his mother was right. She left the caps off of pens so that the pockets of her skirts turned black; she threw her clothes around the room, she dropped her towels on the floor, she scrunched up papers into a ball and threw them into the wastebasket, and missed, and didn't bend to put them properly into the bin; she made her bed with lumps, sometimes the lumps were just the blankets or the sheets, sometimes they were her socks or underwear or books she'd fallen asleep reading. As if she didn't understand you made a bed for the look of it, not just so that if someone (Joseph's mother) asked if you had made your bed you would be free to answer yes.He wondered what Maria thought about his mother. They never spoke about her. No, once they had spoken about her, and it would have been much better if they'd never had the conversation. Once his mother had said such awful things, called Maria a pig, a slut, a hussy, a disgrace, and she'd just stood there, going white. Although she always had high coloring, this day she had gone dead white and made her body stiff and clenched her fists beside her body as if she wanted, really very badly wanted, to hit Joseph's mother and all her life was put into her fists, keeping them clenched so they would not. She had excused herself and left the room, walking slowly as though she had to show them, Joseph and his mother, that she didn't need to run. And Joseph for once had shouted at his mother, "Why are you so horrible to her?" And his mother had shouted, opened her lips, showed her strong yellow teeth; her tongue spat out the words, "How dare you take her part against me. The filthy, filthy pig. They're all alike. Fine ladies, with someone like me to clean up their shit. And you too, don't forget it. You're not one of them, you're my flesh and blood, whether you like it or you don't. They'll leave you in the end, don't you forget it. In the end I'll be the only thing you have."

She couldn't be right, the Meyers would not leave him. So he left his mother sobbing in the kitchen and went upstairs to where he knew Maria would be sitting, still and white as if she had shed blood. He knocked on her door and then walked in. He saw her sitting as he knew she would be, and he sat down beside her on her bed.

"I'm sorry she's so mean. You should do something. You should tell your father."

"No," she said. "If I say something, he might say something to her, and she might want to leave, or he might make her leave, and you'd leave too."

He should not have come into her room; he wished he hadn't heard it. And wished later that he hadn't heard, been made to hear, the conversation at the table, Dr. Meyers talking to them both, Maria and his mother, calmly, saying that he understood both sides and that they must be patient with each other. Our Lord had loved both sisters, Martha and her sister Mary, there was room for all beneath the sight of God.

What he said made nothing better. His mother said she just did it for the girl's own good, these things were important in a woman's life, she, Helen Kaszperkowski knew that. And then Maria said she would try to be better at these things. And Dr. Meyers lifted up his knife and fork and said, "Good, good." And Joseph knew he had no home, there was no place that was his really, as Maria's place was with her father. He was here or he was there, but it was possible, although he felt himself much happier beside the Meyers, that his mother had been right and it was beside her that he must find his place, must live.


But what was it, that happiness he felt beside the Meyers if it was not where he belonged? He thought about the things the three of them did together. The train into the city and the dressing up, the destination always one of those high, grey-stoned buildings with the ceiling beautiful enough to live on, carved or vaulted, and the always insufficient lights. The joy those buildings gave him, the dry impersonal air, the rich, hard-won minerals: the marble and the gold, where no wet breath—of doubt, of argument or of remorse—could settle or leave trace. And how the voice of Dr. Meyers came into its own; the thick dental consonants, the vowels overlong and arched, belonged there. Everybody else's speech offended in those rooms, seemed cut off, rushed, ungiving and unloved. But Dr. Meyers' voice as he described a painting or a pillar wrapped around whatever he called beautiful and made it comfortable and no longer strange. It belonged then, to Joseph and Maria; Dr. Meyers had surrounded it with their shared history and let its image float in slowly, like a large ship making its way to harbor, safely to its place inside their lives.

And then there were the treats, the lunches at the automat, the brown pots of baked beans or macaroni, the desserts at Rumpelmayers and the silly games, the game they played with cream puffs. "It is important," Dr. Meyers would say in Rumpelmayers, in the room that looked just like a doll's house, pink and white and ribboned like a doll, "it is important," he would say, making his face look pretend-serious "to know exactly how to eat a cream puff. When I was in Paris, very great ladies would say to me, "C'est de la plus grande importance savoir manger une creampuff comme il faut." He would keep on his pretend-serious face and cut into one cream puff deliberately, carving up pieces with the right mix of pastry and cream, then popping them into his mouth like Charlie Chaplin. "But, my children," he would say, "it takes a lot of practice. You must eat many cream puffs before you can truly say you know how to eat them comme il faut."

Then he would order one cream puff for each of them and say, "That's good, you're getting the idea, but I don't think it's quite yet comme il faut." So, with a pretend-serious face he would order another for them, and then another, then when he could see them stuffed with richness and with pleasure at the joke he would say, "Ah, I think you're getting there, You are learning the fine art of eating cream puffs comme il faut."

Then they would go to the afternoon movies, the Three Stooges, Laurel and Hardy, movie after funny movie, and Dr. Meyers laughed the hardest, laughed till he coughed and they hit him on the back, then laughed at how hard they were hitting him. And then they would walk outside. Outside, where, while they had pleased themselves in warmth and darkness, the sky had grown somber. And quickly, sharply, they left behind the silly men who fought and shouted just to make them laugh. They'd wend their way through the commuters to St. Patrick's for the five thirty, the workers' Mass. And pray, amidst the people coming from their offices in suits, the women, some in hats, some taking kerchiefs from their handbags, all of them kneeling underneath the high dark ceiling where the birettas of dead cardinals hung rotting; always they chose a pew beside the statue of Pope Pius, waxy white, as if he were already dead. Then, blurred by the sacraments and silenced, they walked to Grand Central, boarded the train, too hot or too cold, always, and looked out the windows, pressed their cheeks against the glass and played "I Spy."

And at home Joseph's mother waited, served them dinner when they arrived, served them in anger for she knew they had left her out. Once they invited her to come with them to the Metropolitan Museum. Dr. Meyers showed her the Ming vases and her only comment was "I'd hate to have to dust all those," and Dr. Meyers laughed and said it was extraordinary how one never thought of all the maintenance these treasures took, and then his mother smiled, as if she had said the right thing. But he could see Maria look away, pretending not to be there for his sake, and his heart burned up with shame, and he was glad that Dr. Meyers never asked his mother to come along again, and he knew it was one more thing he would have to make up to her when he was grown up and a man.

What was Maria thinking when she pretended not to look and not to be there? Sometimes he couldn't keep the thought away, the thought that those two hated each other. It must not be true. His mother said she was doing things for Maria's own good, and Maria never said a thing about his mother. But could they both be lying to him? No, not lying, but the sin, as Father Riordan called it, of concealing truth. A venial sin, but did they live it? It was more likely that his mother lived in sin, in venial sin of course. God forbid that she would live in mortal sin. But was her unkindness venial sin? And the way she found wrong everything about Maria? Why did she hate Maria's hair?


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Temporary Shelter by Mary Gordon. Copyright © 1987 Mary Gordon. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Meet the Author

Born in New York to a Catholic mother and a father who converted to Catholicism from Judaism, Mary Gordon was raised in a strict, religious environment and at one time considered becoming a nun. She attended Barnard College and in 1978 published her first novel, Final Payments. She followed that with The Company of Women (1981), both books exploring the challenges faced by young Catholic women as they make their way in the larger, secular world. Her other novels include Men and Angels (1985), The Other Side (1989), Spending (1998), and Pearl (2005), the story of an Irish-American mother forced to reexamine her faith and political ideals as her daughter slowly starves herself during a hunger strike in Ireland. 
With the The Shadow Man: A Daughter’s Search for Her Father (1996), Gordon turned her attention to her own family, examining the mysterious and complicated life of her father, a Jewish convert to Catholicism who died when she was seven, leaving behind a web of lies and half-truths about his past. 
Gordon is also the author of three novellas, collected in The Rest of Life; a book of short stories called Temporary Shelter (1987); and two collections of essays, Good Boys and Dead Girls (1992) and Seeing Through Places: Reflections on Geography and Identity (2003). In 2000, she published a biography of Joan of Arc. 
She has received the Lila Wallace Reader’s Digest Writers Award and a Guggenheim Fellowship, and is also a three-time recipient of the O. Henry Award for best short story. The Company of Women was a finalist for the National Book Award in 1983.
Gordon currently teaches literature and writing at Barnard College. 
Born in New York to a Catholic mother and a father who converted to Catholicism from Judaism, Mary Gordon was raised in a strict, religious environment and at one time considered becoming a nun. She attended Barnard College and in 1978 published her first novel, Final Payments. She followed that with The Company of Women (1981), both books exploring the challenges faced by young Catholic women as they make their way in the larger, secular world. Her other novels include Men and Angels (1985), The Other Side (1989), Spending (1998), and Pearl (2005), the story of an Irish-American mother forced to reexamine her faith and political ideals as her daughter slowly starves herself during a hunger strike in Ireland.
With the The Shadow Man: A Daughter’s Search for Her Father (1996), Gordon turned her attention to her own family, examining the mysterious and complicated life of her father, a Jewish convert to Catholicism who died when she was seven, leaving behind a web of lies and half-truths about his past.
Gordon is also the author of three novellas, collected in The Rest of Life; a book of short stories called Temporary Shelter (1987); and two collections of essays, Good Boys and Dead Girls (1992) and Seeing Through Places: Reflections on Geography and Identity (2003). In 2000, she published a biography of Joan of Arc.
She has received the Lila Wallace Reader’s Digest Writers Award and a Guggenheim Fellowship, and is also a three-time recipient of the O. Henry Award for best short story. The Company of Women was a finalist for the National Book Award in 1983.
Gordon currently teaches literature and writing at Barnard College. 

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Brief Biography

Hometown:
New York, New York
Date of Birth:
December 8, 1949
Place of Birth:
New York, New York
Education:
A.B., Barnard College, 1971; M.A., Syracuse University, 1973

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