All About Women

All About Women

by Andrew M. Greeley


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You're in for an unforgettable experience when America's master storyteller turns his enormous narrative gifts to the passionate, haunting subject of the American woman, searching for—and often finding—love and faith... in Andrew M. Greeley's All About Women.

There's teenaged Rosemarie, coming to grips with the evil of the twentieth century—or is it the evil in the human heart?

Peggy, whose widowhood plunges her into the cold of loneliness.

Rita, whose marriage is rich and fulfilling—except at its core.

Laura, torn between three lovers, one of them a seminarian.

Julie, haunted by something that happened long ago.

Sionna Marie, an imp diving passionately into adulthood.

And Patricia, caught in a web she may not have the power to break.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312850029
Publisher: Doherty, Tom Associates, LLC
Publication date: 01/01/1990
Pages: 352

About the Author

Priest, sociologist, author, and journalist, Father Andrew M. Greeley (1928-2013) was the author of over 50 bestselling novels and more than 100 works of nonfiction. His novels include the Bishop Blackie Ryan series, including The Archbishop in Andalusia; the Nuala Anne McGrail series, including Irish Tweed; the O’Malley Family Saga, including A Midwinter’s Tale; and standalones such as Home for Christmas and The Cardinal Sins.

A leading spokesperson for generations of Catholics, Father Greeley unflinchingly urged his beloved Church to become more responsive to believers’ evolving concerns. He chronicled his service to the Church in two autobiographies, Confessions of a Parish Priest and Furthermore!

Read an Excerpt


In the Beginning

To begin with, the title is a pun.

If you have to explain a pun, you are already in trouble, as I learned from the title of my first novel. Some folks see in a pun some sort of dark conspiracy, and an explanation does not cure them of their suspicions.

However, several of my friends and colleagues were baffled by the title. So, fully aware of the risk, I will essay an explanation:

I do not purport to know "all about women." I merely purport to have collected a group of my short stories, sixteen of which have been published in magazines with such disparate terms as "Women's," "Catholic," "Mystery," "Fantasy," "Science Fiction," and "Literary" in their names. Each story is about a woman, either as the protagonist or the antagonist of the story.

I had thought of calling the collection Sacraments of Grace or Moments of Grace because in each story a woman either is or creates an opportunity of grace for another person or is visited by an offer of grace in the form of another person.

The narrator in the last story, "Gilberte," insists that stories are not video replays of reality but bits and pieces of life rearranged and combined not to tell what actually happened, or even what ought to have happened, but what might have happened. His observation is true especially of the story about himself and of the story he intends to write at the end of his story.

The storyteller modifies the real in order to make it Real, that is to say, to tell a story which says something, however slight, about the meaning of the Real.

As Frank McConnell puts it:

You are the hero of your own life story. The kind of story you weren't to tell yourself about yourself has a lot to do with the kind of person you are and can become. You can listen to (or read in books or watch in films) stories about other people. But that is only because you know, at some basic level, that you are — or could be — the hero of those stories too. You are Ahab in Moby Dick, you are Michael Corleone in The Godfather, you are Ric in Casablanca, Jim in Lord Jim or the tramp in City Lights. And out of these make-believe selves, all of them versions of your own self-in-the-making, you learn, if you are lucky and canny enough, to invent a better you than you could have before the story was told.

* * *

Or to express the same notion in different words, as Kathryn Morton wrote some years ago in The New York Times Book Review, "Narrative is the only art that exists in all human cultures. It is by narrative that we experience our lives. I would propose that ... imaginative narrative ... was decisive in the creation of our species and is still essential in the development of each human individual and necessary to the maintenance of his health and the pursuit of his purposes" (December 23, 1984).

Narrative puts order into the chaos of life and meaning into its seeming absurdity.

More than just showing us order in hypothetical existences, novelists give us demonstration classes in what is the ultimate work of us all, for by the days and the years we must create the narratives of our own lives ... so you say reading a novel is a way to kill time when the real world needs tending to. I tell you that the only world I know is the world as I know it and I am still learning how to comprehend that. These books are showing me ways of being I could never have managed alone. I am not killing time. I'm trying to make a life.

So to the question of whether my stories are autobiographical I always reply that they are pieced together out of the experiences of my life but do not replicate or merely re-present those experiences. Even those two classic authors of autobiographical fiction, James Joyce and Marcel Proust, notably rewrote the stories of their lives in order to tell a story about what they thought their lives meant.

Many young writers fresh out of creative writing programs do not grasp the difference between the real and the Real. Hence they write autobiography in which, they hope, nothing has been changed. Thus they settle scores with parents, siblings, and lovers and hope for publication in The New Yorker. The only problem is that rarely is a videotaped replay of a young writer's life experiences until twenty-five sufficiently compelling to hold a reader's attention. That is frequently a blessing, because if the young writer should by some mischance write a story which would compel the attention of an ordinary reader, then s/he might become popular and thus be denounced routinely by book reviewers (frequently copy editors at the journal publishing the review) for whom popularity is a sign of failure.

Novels and short stories are compulsively gleaned for traces of details of the author's secret lives and loves, a rather bizarre form of voyeurism, it seems to me. One reviewer, basing his view on a dedication of a book (not the one he was supposed to be reviewing) to "Erika," announced to the world that I had a sweetheart when I was growing up named Erika. On the west side of Chicago in the 1930s and 40s, an Erika? Come on. Mary Lous and Betty Janes and Margaret Annes, maybe.

Or Rosemaries and Jennys and Julies and Lauras and Peggys.

But Erikas? You gotta be out of your mind!

(The real Erika was a colleague of mine at the University of Chicago, a professor emerita of human development, a German-Jewish refugee from the Holocaust, and a psychoanalytic hypnotist.)

You will learn much about my attitudes toward women in these stories, should that subject interest you more than the stories themselves, which it shouldn't. But you won't learn much about the facts of my life. Did I sit on the pier of my family's house at Lake Geneva with a young woman like Laura?

We didn't have a house at Lake Geneva. Was there a woman like Laura? Sure, but only in the world of my imagination.

More or less.

As a certain cardinal of Chicago who will remain nameless said to me when I told him that another character (Ellen in The Cardinal Sins) of mine was not real, "That's a shame."

There was a child with a smile like Jenny's but the woman in the story is a creature of my imagination made up to go with the memory of the smile.

The Gray Ghost really lived and died, but Julie Quinn is a figment composed on a Sunday afternoon at Port Dickson, where, for some reason I cannot explain, I thought of him. Perhaps the narrator's absolution is self-directed — healing his own guilt for the death of the Ghost.

(When Roberta read the story, she was displeased with me: "Greels, why didn't you introduce her to us?" Me: "Roberta, she was there only in my imagination." I'm not sure I convinced her.)

Monsignor Martin Branigan is based on Monsignor Daniel "Diggy" Cunningham, God be good to him, who was immensely proud, the funeral homilist said, of his fictional portrait. The people from his parish of "Saint Ursula," however are products of my world, not God's. They represent, if I am forced to say it in prose, the possibilities of Catholic life — as does the Clan Ryan.

I hope Ms. Carpenter is like I imagine her.

Even the real-life counterpart of Shanny Nolan, drawn more from life than most of the others, is necessarily abridged, edited, and transformed for the purpose of converting the real into the Real.

While the real life Shanny and Ed are like all humans larger than life, these two young people are even larger. Hence their legitimate protest, "Father Greeley, why not a novel?"

"Why not a library?"

"That would be all right, too."

Is their story true? Are the other stories true? Only if you spell the word with a capital T. They are all True in the sense that they are told, like every story, to say something about what life means and about what possibilities for life are open to all of us.

Tucson January 1989


For most of my life Jenny Martin has been the memory of a smile. It begins slowly, hesitantly, a skier at the beginning of a run, not sure that it is safe to plunge over the edge. Then it picks up momentum, as the skier races down the slope. Then it explodes as though the skier spins in snow and sends up a cloud of white crystal that transiently harnesses all the sunlight of a cloudless day.

Fragile and uncertain at the beginning, Jenny Martin's smiles always ended in an explosion of white light and laughter, as on the day when our tricycles collided in front of the Baptist church and I met Jenny for the first time, a little girl who was amused, not offended, by a show-off little boy trying to bang up her tricycle.

Or so it seems to my memory.

"Hi," said the girl who went with the smile. "I'm Jenny."

I will never believe that children don't fall in love. I did. That very moment.

Several years ago I was glancing through an album of childhood pictures my sister had assembled. One of the photos was of a birthday party when I was about ten years old. I'm sure that Jenny Martin was one of the little girls at the party. But I was not able to pick her out of the crowd of solemn-faced little girls with braided hair, none of them as pretty as I remembered Jenny. Such is the magic of dreams.

I have supposed for decades that the smile I remember is more a creature of my memory than the smile of a real-life child. When we return to the neighborhoods in which we were raised, everything is appallingly small. Tiny patches of front yard confront our memories of vast lawns. Modest two-story houses like Jenny's replace our imagination of gigantic, Victorian mansions. At first sight of the scrawny front yard and the decaying old house, we think that our neighborhood has changed. Then we realize that it is older but essentially the same. The neighborhood hasn't changed. We have.

So it must be, I have told myself oftentimes, with Jenny Martin's smile. Just a little girl's pleasant facial expression, nothing spectacular. But because it was the first girl's smile that was ever directed at me, it has lingered in my memory and been transmuted into the dazzling smiles I see in movies or in television advertisements.

Of course I knew Jenny when she was something more than just a little girl. Nonetheless, I assumed that my memory of Jenny's smile on Garden Boulevard in the 1930s has been imposed on my memory of a troubled young woman with whom I spoke in the late 1940s. No, there could have been nothing all that special about Jenny's smile.

A few weeks ago I saw this smile again on two different women. If my memory played any tricks at all, it was to picture Jenny Martin's smile as less than the reality.

For many years Jenny Martin's smile lingered on the periphery of my consciousness, not quite forgotten — it would never be forgotten — but still among my conscious reflections. Then, about five years ago, I encountered Betty Regan, the president of our grammar-school class, in the Old Ground Hotel in Ennis, County Clare, Ireland. To be candid, I did not recognize her. Affluence, motherhood, and age had not deprived Betty of all her attractiveness. She was someone's cheerful, good-natured grandmother bubbling as she had so long ago, but not the dazzling brown-haired, brown-eyed beauty of our school days.

Our reunion in the lounge bar of the Old Ground made its pilgrimage from enthusiasm to melancholy very quickly. Life had not been kind to many of our classmates. Divorces, suicides, alcoholism, financial failure, sons killed in Vietnam, others become drug addicts, a long litany of heartbreaks, disappointments, and frustrations. Life does not seem to have many happy endings.

"Gosh," Betty said, the bubbles gone out of her champagne. "I didn't realize there was so much unhappiness. I'm not looking forward to our fortieth reunion anymore."

"It was a hard time to grow up," I said. "A big leap from depression to prosperity and an even bigger leap from prosperity to the 1960s. We felt we were unlucky when we were growing up and then when we made our money and moved to the suburbs we thought we were very lucky, and then when our children turned against us, we realized how hollow our success was."

"Well, at least you don't have any convicts in your class," said her husband. "Two of my law-school classmates have done time at Lexington."

"We had one of those, too," said Betty, with a faintly ironic laugh. "Remember her, Father? Jenny Martin? I think she was the dumbest kid I ever knew."

"As I remember her, she had a hard time. Stern old German grandparents, a father that played around, all kinds of trouble in the house."

Betty nodded thoughtfully. "Do you remember that time Sister Cunnegunda tore her apart? Wasn't that a show and a half?"

Well did I remember it. It was history class in eighth grade, the first year since the beginning of grammar school that Jenny and I were in the same room. We had moved away from her end of the parish four years before and she and her smile had drifted out of my young life. The subject was the history of Chicago and Jenny, as was her habit, was staring vacantly out the window, presumably watching the snowflakes fall.

"Jenny Martin," snapped Sister Cunnegunda, "you're not paying attention."

"Yes, Sister."

"When was the city of Chicago founded?"

"I'm sorry, I don't know, Sister."

Sister Cunnegunda bore down on her like a battleship ramming a PT boat. I suppose she only asked Jenny a dozen or so questions but it seemed like a hundred. The last one was "Who's the mayor of Chicago now?"

Everyone knew, of course, that it was Edward J. Kelly.

"I'm sorry, Sister, I don't know."

"Do you know your own name?"

"Yes, Sister."

"Then go to Sister Superior's office and tell her your name and tell her how you behaved in this class."

"Yes, Sister." Jenny slipped out of her seat and rushed towards the door, her face crimson, tears streaming down her cheeks.

"She may be the most stupid child I've ever had in my classroom," Cunnegunda thundered after her.

We reveled in Jenny's humiliation. Every class needs a target, a class fool, a class clown, a class scapegoat. Usually it is an inarticulate boy who may make up for it by his skills on the football field. Poor Jenny couldn't even jump rope well.

And God help me, I laughed with the rest of them. Sister Cunnegunda tore her up and threw her to the sharks down in the principal's office, and I laughed at my Jenny.

As I try to recall her anguished face that day, it seems to me that she was pretty. Pretty girls are not usually targets of fury and classmate laughter.

"Of course," Betty bubbled on. "She was a nice kid. She always wanted to belong to the gang but never quite knew how. She flunked out of Providence in her sophomore year and never even managed to graduate from Austin High. You really had to be dumb to flunk out of a public high school."

"Dumb or scared," said her husband, earning considerable respect from me for the observation.

I knew that she had taken courses in reform school and finally won her high-school diploma after she was released. But I saw no point in admitting that I was at all interested in Jenny Martin.

"Whatever happened to her?" I asked, in a neutral tone of voice.

"Oh, she lives in California now. I think I have her address somewhere back home, so we can send her an invitation to the fortieth next year."

"Married?" I asked casually.

Betty shook her head in disapproval. "She married, from what I hear, some sort of gangster type. I don't suppose she'll come to the reunion anyway."

Not many of us fall in love at six and stay in love with that person for the rest of our lives. So the love relationships of those whose age is still in single digits do not seem to interest psychologists. After all, such loves are shallow and transient, as one psychologist remarked to me when I asked him about single-digit love.

But that ignores the point of view of a six-year-old for whom the experience of loving and being loved by someone your own age who is not a member of your family is the most intense phenomenon that's happened in your life. You've forgotten or repressed the very early experiences with your mother and your father and have begun to tentatively probe the world beyond your house where there is a lot of rivalry, hostility, competition, and cruelty. Then you find somebody who just plain likes you and whom you like in return. If that person is a member of the other sex, mutual affection becomes, for a time, the most important reality in your life. You don't even know that the name of what you're experiencing is love, but you do know that the other person is on your mind always and you can hardly wait to see her when the new day begins.

Because of my vivid memory of Jenny's smile, I've carefully watched kids in the single-digit years and noted how powerfully they're attracted to one another. Love is a dangerous, messy, demanding, unruly emotion at any age, even six. There must have been something special between Jenny and me. Most adults forget their single-digit love affairs, but I've never forgotten Jenny or rather the smile that my memory has created to remind me of her.

For a couple of years all the time that we were not in school or doing homework or sleeping, Jenny and I were together. There were other kids around playing with us, but they were not important. Jenny and I raced both on foot and on our tricycles and then on our bicycles (she won, usually). She watched when I played softball in the alley and I watched when she jumped rope with her friends. When we moved out of the neighborhood at the end of third grade, I didn't miss her at all. Perhaps the relationship was coming to an end. We were about at the age when kids swarm with their own sex anyway. When we moved back into the parish two years later — at the opposite end from where Jenny lived — I had no particular inclination to seek her out. Although we were in the same grade in grammar school, I don't think we were ever in the same classroom until in the eighth grade when we sat at the feet of Queen Kong, as we lovingly called Sister Cunnegunda, with a notable lack of fairness, it seems to me, to the ape. By then I had forgotten how much I had loved Jenny. So I laughed at her with the rest, although with a troubled conscience.


Excerpted from "All About Women"
by .
Copyright © 1990 Andrew M. Greeley Enterprises, Ltd..
Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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.

Table of Contents

In the Beginning 1

Jenny 7

Sionna Marie 26

Martina 34

Mary Jane 49

Julie 64

Lisa 78

Cindasoo 96

Peggy 115

Paula 132

Deirdre 140

Andrea 153

April Mae 202

Brigid 226

Caitlin 245

Laura 254

Maggie 267

Rosemarie 294

Patricia 313

Ms. Carpenter 329

Rita 338

Stranger 350

Gilberte 361

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