The Liar's Wife: Four Novellas by Mary Gordon | Hardcover | Barnes & Noble
The Liar's Wife: Four Novellas

The Liar's Wife: Four Novellas

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by Mary Gordon

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The award-winning author at her storytelling best: four compelling novellas of Americans in Europe and Europeans in America.
In these absorbing and exquisitely made novellas of relationships at home and abroad, both historical and contemporary, we meet the ferocious Simone Weil during her final days as a transplant to New York City; a vulnerable


The award-winning author at her storytelling best: four compelling novellas of Americans in Europe and Europeans in America.
In these absorbing and exquisitely made novellas of relationships at home and abroad, both historical and contemporary, we meet the ferocious Simone Weil during her final days as a transplant to New York City; a vulnerable American grad student who escapes to Italy after her first, compromising love affair; the charming Irish liar of the title story, who gets more out of life than most of us; and Thomas Mann, opening the heart of a high-school kid in the Midwest. These narratives dazzle on the surface with beautifully rendered settings and vistas, and dig deep psychologically. At every turn, Mary Gordon reveals in her characters’ interactions those crucial flashes of understanding that change lives forever. So richly developed it’s hard to believe they fit into novella-size packages, these tales carry us away both as individual stories and as a larger experience of Gordon’s literary mastery and human sympathy.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Valerie Martin
Because these four novellas don't so much connect as evolve, they should be read in the order in which they're presented. They build on one another, suggesting interesting dichotomies beyond the traditional positioning of innocence versus experience: travel versus exile, privilege versus affliction, idealism versus survival, responsibility versus complicity. Certain words—"affliction" being most noteworthy, but also "privilege," "beauty," "shame," "contempt" and "rage"—are repeated in different contexts until they begin to take on weight. The intelligence that breathes through the characters tirelessly raises the unanswerable questions that animate all great fiction, lifting the reader out of the story and into the realm of ethical dilemma and moral agony.
From the Publisher
Advance Praise for The Liar’s Wife
“The sheer bliss of reading Gordon’s consummate prose is deepened by her stunning insights into moral tangles and abrupt comprehension as she mixes the comic and the profound in her considerations of innocence and defilement, self-sacrifice and greatness, insularity and the bracing tussle of the world. Beloved and much-honored, Gordon is at her captivating finest in a book primed to catch fire.” —Booklist (starred review)
Praise for The Love of My Youth
“Entrancing . . . Gordon deftly awakens the strain of regret and desire that we too feel as we watch old loves and old selves recede.” —Los Angeles Times
“Emotionally engaging and smoothly flowing, The Love of My Youth showcases Gordon’s power to write with controlled urgency, without dissembling or exaggeration, to reveal truths that are hard to face in the unsparing light of day, but without which we could not see ourselves as we are.” —The New York Times Book Review
Praise for The Stories of Mary Gordon
(winner of the Story Prize)

“Vivid and richly imagined.” —Chicago Sun-Times
“These characters are splendid in their ridiculous humanity . . . You’ll want to inhale and savor at the same time.” —Entertainment Weekly
Prasie for Pearl
“Enthralling . . . A demanding and rewarding brainy-brawny novel that complicates our understanding of the world instead of coarsening it.” —The New York Times Book Review

Library Journal
Past and present, Europe and America meet in this collection of four novellas from the incandescent Gordon. Simone Weil faces her death in New York City, Thomas Mann makes a difference to an American high school student, an American graduate student flees to Italy after a disastrous love affair, and a slippery-tongued Irish charmer shows us how to live. Just like a great Gordon novel times four; grab the reading group guide.
Kirkus Reviews
Fans of the author will welcome these four novellas for their familiar themes and rich characters.Gordon (The Love of My Youth, 2011, etc.) visits familiar territory from her 36 years of fiction, criticism and memoirs: faith sustained or lost, father figures and mentors, unreliable lovers and the power that two people exert or inflict on each other. For this collection, the pull of the past figures prominently. A former student of Simone Weil meets the French philosopher in New York in 1942 and is confused to encounter a brilliant intellect now imbued with mysticism and life-saving schemes and questions her own choice of family over career. In Fine Arts, a graduate student eases her path to scholarly achievement by sleeping with her married mentor. After he breaks it off, she discovers the beauty in her chosen artist’s work in Lucca, Italy, and acquires a fairy-tale benefactor. A 90-year-old man remembers himself as a callow high schooler in Gary, Indiana, chosen to introduce Thomas Mann at a lecture in 1939 and learning about imported cheese, literature and Nazi atrocities. In the title story, the best of these novellas, a wealthy elderly woman is visited in New Canaan, Connecticut, by the husband she ran from 50 years earlier. It begins with the nicely drawn fear and vulnerability aroused by a strange truck parked near her house. It’s the old beau’s van, and his surprise visit sparks memories of a time when love took her with him to his crowd in Ireland. There, his small lies led to a bigger one, amid other things that weren’t what they seemed. In retrospect, though, she wonders what she lost by fleeing home to safety and certainty.What Gordon sometimes lacks in subtlety is often made up for by the passion and energy of a questioning mind made all the more vital as she ages with her characters.

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
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Product dimensions:
6.40(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.30(d)

Read an Excerpt

from "The Liar's Wife":

She was suddenly struck at the oddness: in the years that had gone by, she had rarely thought of Johnny.
How could it be that you had married someone, loved someone, and then never thought about them?
And now, after all this time, he was here. Of course she’d have to let him in the house.
But how would she say this in a way that was neither unwelcoming nor encouraging of too much—what? Intimacy? Friendship? Time? What could she say? “Bring him in. I’ll see him now. I’m ready.” What she decided to say was not quite true, but it had the virtue of seeming inoffensive.
“I’d like to see him. Of course I would.”
The woman reached into the back pocket of her jeans. She took out a lime green cell phone and pressed one key.
“It seems you’re as welcome as the flowers in May, as one of your old songs goes,” she said.
She stood on the porch, beckoning Johnny in, as if it were her house, as if she were the hostess. Jocelyn stood behind her, still in the living room.
The door of the truck opened. The driver’s door. He walked towards the house.
It was too dark for her to make out features, but even in this light his walk was familiar to her, that mix, that had once so aroused her, of confidence and hesitation, born of the sense that was nearly but not quite absolute: everyone would be glad to see him. And there was no need to thrust or push or even rush to make his presence felt. He was still thin; and although you heard that in age people got shorter, she hadn’t noticed it yet in her friends, and she didn’t see it in him. He had all his hair, and it hadn’t seemed to turn gray; it was still blond, golden even. He was wearing jeans and a T-shirt whose inscription she couldn’t read . . . did it match the woman’s? Like her, he wore cow­boy boots. The buckle of his belt was elaborate, but Jocelyn couldn’t read the lettering. Why was he trying to pass himself off as a cowboy? She remembered that he’d loved American Westerns, loved the part of America that she felt no connection to, that slightly embarrassed her. Elvis, for example. He was crazy about Elvis, whom she considered at best mildly mortifying, at worst a bore.
From this distance, he appeared to be much younger than she knew he was. She saw that he had his right hand in his pocket, and she knew what he was doing; playing with a coin, turning it up and down. It was what he did when he was nervous, and of course, he would be nervous seeing her.
He jumped up the three porch stairs—still, she thought, the master of the boyish gesture.
“Well, Jossie, if you’re not a sight for sore eyes. You haven’t changed a bit.”
And you’re still a liar, she wanted to say, surprised at her own bitterness.
“Won’t you sit down,” she said, indicating the couch to them, dis­pleased at her own diction.
The woman sat down and patted the chintz fabric of the couch. “Johnny was as nervous as a cat that you wouldn’t want to see him. I said, ‘Johnny if she don’t want to see you we just start up the truck and just take off, like we never been here.’ But he says to me, ‘Linnet my love,’ he calls me that, I think it’s the Irish way, ‘Linnet my love,’ he says to me, ‘you go in first, to pave the way.’ I said to him, ‘For Lord’s sake, Johnny, after all this time there’s bound to be no hard feelings.’ ”
Hard feelings. Jocelyn thought. No hard feelings. What would be the opposite of hard feelings? Soft feelings. The truth is, Linnet my love, she wanted to say, I have no feelings at all.
She felt ashamed at her own nullity of heart. In place of sadness or regret there was simple curiosity. Johnny Shaughnessy was seventy-five. He’d been twenty-five when she’d last seen him. In her mind, he was still twenty-five, and Johnny had always been much more boy than man. And so, like some joke speeded-up film, the boy in her mind was the old man in her living room.
“It means the world to him,” Linnet said. “I can tell you that for sure.”
Johnny seemed to want to let Linnet talk. He was looking down at the carpet, as if the pattern were a code he might, with luck, break.
“Linnet,” she said. “That’s a lovely name. Unusual.”
“My father was Canadian.”
She wondered what that had to do with anything. She tried to remember what a linnet looked like, but she was pretty sure it was a small bird, rather delicate. But there was nothing delicate about this woman, with her tortured hair, her oversized breasts, her Born to Be Wild T-shirt, her long red nails. The stench of cigarette smoke clung to her. Jocelyn wondered if her breasts were real. It seemed unlikely, given the smallness of the woman’s frame. But what did it matter if she’d had—a phrase Jocelyn loathed—a boob job? She wouldn’t be spending enough time with her for it to matter one way or another. A few minutes, half an hour perhaps. Then she’d be gone from Jocelyn’s life, as quickly and easily as she’d entered it. Taking Johnny with her. Quickly and for good.
“You’re probably surprised to see an old Frito-Lay’s truck parked in front of your house, on your nice street. But it’s our job. It’s a pretty common job for senior citizens. Pretty common for retirees trying to supplement a pension. Cross-country hauling, I mean to say. Of course we’re not exactly retirees. A musician never retires. For a musician, retirement and death are the same word. And the Lord knows neither of us have a pension.”
“You’re still playing and singing, Johnny?” Jocelyn asked, glad to think of something to say.
“We both do, Jossie,” Johnny said. “We call ourselves Dixie and Dub.”
“On account of he’s from Dublin and I’m from Tennessee.”
“Oh, yes I see,” she said, wanting to add, You were better than that when I knew you.
It was the fourteenth of July, 1962, the day she met him. She remem­bered it was Bastille Day.
He had come into their lives because her father had met him on the train. His usual train, the 5:38. Johnny had sat down next to him, out of breath, having only just made the all-aboard. She always imagined a conductor shouting “All aboard” and Johnny running down the track, jumping onto the train at the last minute. But she wasn’t really sure if anyone shouted “All aboard” on suburban commuter trains.
Johnny had engaged her father in conversation. Had her father been reluctant, putting his face in his New York Times to seem discouraging? But no shield could withstand the thrusts of Johnny Shaughnessy when he was determined to make contact. Of course her father had been charmed. Perhaps it was his voice, the beautiful Irish cadences, making you feel you’d never heard English spoken properly before. Her father had been seduced. Johnny was a seducer. His seduction of her was in a way the least spectacular of the many she’d observed. He had seduced her, but it had been he who’d been abandoned. There was a category “seducer,” but none for the abandoner. That is who she had been.

Meet the Author

Mary Gordon is the author of seven novels, including Final Payments, Pearl, and The Love of My Youth; six works of nonfiction, including the memoirs The Shadow Man and Circling My Mother; and three collections of fiction, including The Stories of Mary Gordon, which was awarded the Story Prize. She has received many other honors, including a Lila Wallace–Reader’s Digest Writers’ Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and an Academy Award for Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She teaches at Barnard College and lives in New York City.

Brief Biography

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

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The Liar's Wife: Four Novellas 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
4bb More than 1 year ago
At first it seems that nothing links Mary Gordon's four novellas that make up The Liar's Wife. But when one thinks about them,one sees that they are indeed linked thematically. Each of the novellas looks at a seminal event in the main character's life; each explores many issues, including the choices one makes and where those choices lead, how the past impacts the present, and what role courage--the courage to think or be "outside the box"--plays in one's life. Gordon's writing is precise, never over-wrought, and her insights are profound.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago