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The Other Side

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Both Ellen and Vincent left Ireland in the early part of this century, one bitterly escaping shame, humiliation, and fear; the other filled with hope for the promise and future of America - the "other side." Together for more than sixty years, they raised a family, savored their dreams, comforted, challenged, and defied one another. Their desires and fears are manifest in the generations that follow - children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, each carrying as a legacy of the past the need to find a true place...
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The Other Side: A Novel

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Overview

Both Ellen and Vincent left Ireland in the early part of this century, one bitterly escaping shame, humiliation, and fear; the other filled with hope for the promise and future of America - the "other side." Together for more than sixty years, they raised a family, savored their dreams, comforted, challenged, and defied one another. Their desires and fears are manifest in the generations that follow - children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, each carrying as a legacy of the past the need to find a true place in the family and in the world at large.

As she writes of passage and change, of the struggle of generations to find a common ground, Mary Gordon reveals that the dramas wrought by social and cultural forces can be resolved only in the realm of the heart.

Gordon's strength and skill as a storyteller have never been more evident than in this extraordinary novel of passage and change, of immigration and displacement, and of the struggles os families to find a common ground among generations.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Gordon's talents as a mesmerizing storyteller and a chronicler of the human heart come together in a brutally honest and tenderly compassionate novel about a family who transcend their particularities to represent the saga of Irish immigrants and their descendants in America--``the Other Side.'' Married for 66 years, Ellen and Vincent MacNamara have parented three children one died in WW II, raised two of their five grandchildren and passed from penury into the middle class. Now Ellen lies dying, emerging briefly from her semi-comatose state to scream and fight against the shackling of her soul in a moribund body; in one such rage, she knocked Vincent down, breaking his hip. Vincent is returning home after convalescence to honor his promise to stay with Ellen until she dies. Most of their family still live within a several-block radius in Queens, N.Y., and they have gathered for Vincent's return. In spare, astringent prose and beautifully controlled kaleidoscopic episodes, Gordon delineates the four generations of this family, exposing their personalities by virtue of her ironic eye. The offspring of the marriage between high-principled, indomitable Ellen, whose ``love for vengeance would mark her life,'' and gentle, steady Vincent have carried a heritage of stony anger and heartache. They illustrate a tragedy common to many families: that two people connected in passionate union may produce children they cannot love. More fundamentally, the MacNamaras represent the Irish: ``unhappiness was bred into the bone, a message in the blood . . . they had to thwart joy in their lives.'' Gordon shows how difficult it is for anyone ``to make a life,'' to persevere in a personal quest for happiness while attempting to not hurt others. In the end, she has illumined ``this impossible endeavor'' with rare candor and understanding.
Library Journal
Acute observer of the particular anguish of women brought up Catholic in this country, Gordon here takes on several generations of an Irish American family and their experiences on both sides of the Atlantic. The story unfolds on a single day at the home of Vincent and Ellen McNamara, whose family has gathered for Vincent's return from a nursing home--his wife Ellen, disabled by a stroke, having injured him by pushing him to the floor in a fit of confusion. Using this gathering to explore family history, beginning with Ellen's and Vincent's separate and very different departures from Ireland, Gordon lays bare a legacy of lovelessness and defeat passed from parent to child to grandchild. So many people are implicated in this defeat that it is hard to keep track of everyone--and, indeed, to believe that not one of them could have risen above it. Gordon is as ever a fine prose stylist, her characterizations deft and her detailing of human antagonisms and flaws merciless and exact, but it can begin to wear. Here is a family so relentlessly alienated that some readers may be alienated as well.-- Barbara Hoffert, ``Library Journal''
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781568950723
  • Publisher: Cengage Gale
  • Publication date: 5/1/1994
  • Pages: 497

Meet the Author

Mary Gordon

Mary Gordon, Professor of English at Barnard College, is the bestselling author of five novels, three collections of short stories, and a memoir. Her books include The Rest of Life, The Other Side and Spending. She lives in New York City.

Biography

Mary Gordon is the author of the novels The Love of My Youth, Spending, The Company of Women, and The Rest of Life, as well as the memoir The Shadow Man. She has received a Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Writer's Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the 1997 O. Henry Award for best short story. She teaches at Barnard College and lives in New York City.

Author biography courtesy of Random House, Inc.

Good To Know

Some interesting outtakes from our interview with Gordon:

"I don't have any great first job tales: I‘ve never worked on a tramp steamer or in a coal mine or anything like that. I think the inspiration for my writing came largely from my father and the joy that life in books represented to me."

"I love dancing; I adore salsa dancing and wish I could be in a Broadway chorus."

"I could not write without my dog, Rhoda, a Lab-chow mix."

"I would trade any writerly success if it would mean my children would be happy."

"I hate George Bush, John Ashcroft, Rumsfeld, and Cheney. I hate bullies. I hate people who say, ‘It's so fun,' and say, 'literally,' when they mean, ‘figuratively.' "

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    1. Also Known As:
      Mary Gilmour
    2. Hometown:
      New York, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      December 8, 1949
    2. Place of Birth:
      New York, New York
    1. Education:
      A.B., Barnard College, 1971; M.A., Syracuse University, 1973

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