Books by Gail Godwin

GRIEF COTTAGE by Gail Godwin
Released: June 6, 2017

"Godwin approaches many of her usual melancholic themes from a different angle and raises the question of whether we get what we want or we get what we need."
Spirits of all types haunt characters in Godwin's latest examination of grief and loss. Read full book review >
PUBLISHING by Gail Godwin
Released: Jan. 13, 2015

"No blindingly brilliant insights into the seismic changes that have transformed publishing but an agreeable memoir that captures its pleasures and pitfalls."
The evolving nature of the book business over the past half-century, as experienced in one up-and-down career. Read full book review >
FLORA by Gail Godwin
Released: May 7, 2013

"Unsparing yet compassionate; a fine addition to Godwin's long list of first-rate fiction bringing 19th-century richness of detail and characterization to the ambiguities of modern life."
Godwin (Unfinished Desires, 2009, etc.) examines the intricate bonds of family and the enduring scars inflicted by loss. Read full book review >
Released: Jan. 4, 2011

"Sure to interest Godwin's constant readers, but others may wish for future volumes written by a more mature writer."
The sentimental education of now-eminent novelist Godwin (Unfinished Desires, 2010, etc.). Read full book review >
Released: Dec. 29, 2009

"A strong story populated by a host of memorable characters—smart, satisfying fiction, one of the author's best in years."
After a couple of subpar efforts, Godwin (Queen of the Underworld, 2006, etc.) is back in top form with a gripping tale of jealousies and power struggles at a Catholic girls' school. Read full book review >
Released: April 1, 2003

"Intimate and touching, albeit not revelatory."
A woman faces the void in her life and home after the death of her longtime companion. Read full book review >
Released: Feb. 1, 2001

"Though not really much more than a commonplace book of the author's personal fascinations, many readers will dip into this appealing grab-bag with pleasure and sometimes surprise."
Bestselling novelist Godwin (Evensong, 1999, etc.) stitches an intimate sampler of the ways we humans have imagined acts of the heart through time and across cultures. Read full book review >
EVENSONG by Gail Godwin
Released: March 1, 1999

In a satisfying sequel to Father Melancholy's Daughter (1990), Godwin contemplates family ties, the prickly bonds of marriage, and the varieties of religious faith. Walter and Ruth Gower's daughter is now Margaret Bonner, 33, an Episcopal minister like her father, married to his former helpmeet Adrian Bonner. A friend accused Margaret of reproducing her dead parents— mistakes, and that's partly true: like Ruth, she has married a much older man subject to bad bouts of depression, in Adrian's case taking the form of maddening assertions of unworthiness. Margaret hasn—t yet bolted as her mother did, but the Bonner marriage is not in good shape as Margaret's first-person account begins at the end of November 1999. —The eve of the Third Millennium— exacerbates tensions in High Balsam, a North Carolina town nestled in the Smoky Mountains where year-rounders— resentment of the wealthy summer people has recently sparked some ugly incidents. Freelance fundamentalist Grace Munger proposes to heal these tensions with a Millennium Birthday March for Jesus, aggressively pursuing the reluctant Margaret's support. Other new arrivals contributing to the story's complications are Tony, a lay Episcopalian brother who has closer links to the Bonners than he initially reveals; and Chase Zorn, a troubled teenager at the school where Adrian serves as chaplain. As usual with Godwin, all the characters are superbly drawn, particularly the irritating but lovable Adrian and ruthlessly manipulative Grace, who nonetheless arouses feelings of emotional kinship in Margaret. The young minister herself is a thoroughly engaging heroine whose struggles with spiritual and domestic commitment are convincingly and unpretentiously depicted. In Godwin's leisurely, nouveau-Victorian narrative, people are sometimes improbably quick to lay out their life-stories for strangers and astoundingly well-informed about their motives, but that suits the book's reflective tone, as does the epilogue, which wraps up loose ends 20 years later. A solid piece of work from one of our most thoughtful popular novelists. Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 1, 1994

A dying academic, an oblivious house husband, a self-centered Southern writer, and a grieving ex-editor suffer much angst in Godwin's (Father Melancholy's Daughter, 1991, etc.) latest domestic drama — a meditation on marriage in which the prose is always supple but also more than a little dull. Haughty 58-year-old Magda Danvers, an English professor who's still resting on the laurels of the one book she published decades earlier, is holding court from her deathbed, and a gaggle of academics — suck-ups, gossips, parodies all — pay their respects. Magda calls her ovarian cancer her "Gargoyle" and the last months of her life her "Final Examination." As she decays, she is waited upon by her husband, Francis Lake, who is 12 years her junior and gave up the priesthood for her. For 25 years Magda has earned the money while unambitious, nonintrospective Francis has kept house and contented himself with basking in her limelight. Alice Henry, whose baby has just choked on his umbilical cord, finds a peculiar solace in Magda's sickroom. Passive-aggressive Alice can't stomach her novelist husband, Hugo, who's 16 years her senior, and wonders if perhaps she married him because she was in love with his writing — after all, she was his editor. As she becomes closer to Magda and Francis and ponders their unlikely union, she falls in love with Francis, who seems totally unaware of her intentions. Hugo, meanwhile, baffled by Alice's hatred, is fighting off writers' block and learns, to his dismay, that his son from a previous marriage is gay. As each undergoes a self-reckoning, Hugo compares the stages of writing a novel with the stages of a marriage, and Magda, referring to a poem by Donne, welcomes death as her "good husband." Godwin is more enamored, and convinced, of Magda's and Hugo's brilliance than her readers will be. Polished, often incisive, but pompous and obvious as well; with none of the bracing acuity of Sue Miller's For Love, which also put relations between the sexes under a microscope. Particularly disappointing for a novelist of Godwin's stature. Read full book review >
Released: March 18, 1990

Godwin continues her probes into the chimeric stuff of family bonds—bonds within which old passions and deceits and people and affections can tower into myth. Here, the daughter of an Episcopalian priest survives (with her father) a stunning loss, then labors through childhood and youth under the burden of a deep, demanding love for an adored parent—until at last she discovers an identity outside that love. Ruth Gower, the charming, pretty young wife of the Reverend Walter Gower, priest of St. Cuthbert's, and mother of six-year-old Margaret, simply leaves one day to travel with old friend Madelyn, an abrasive, idiosyncratic artist. The Ruth who had once written Walter that "I don't want to be trivial," however, will have a fatal accident a year later in England. (Would she really have come home?) Meanwhile, that last breakfast with Ruth will be remembered by Margaret as "that glowing little moment of paradise when I walk towards her light." But there had been darkness, too, in the child's world—surely there was a witch in the closet! But most especially she and Ruth had lived with Waiter's special darkness, his "Black Curtain of recurring depressions." Even at age six Margaret planned somehow to lead him to the light: "It would be my responsibility." And so it was for the next 16 years. Throughout years of adoring, respecting and being there for a truly good, witty man and fine priest, Margaret matures, share's Waiter's scholarly interests, weathers the endearing-to-exasperating incursions of church pillars, rejects one love, yearns for another's, while all this time the beloved father—together with whom Ruth was "kept alive"—becomes a burden of obligation. At the last, after Waiter's symbolically martyred death, Margaret, in grief, drives her demons from the closet—and, with a spiritual knowledge of her own, rediscovers Ruth and a new self beyond that of clergyman's dutiful daughter. With warmly accessible characters of Trollopian clarity, much attractive erudite dialogue, a shrewd appreciation of the pull of both earthly and divine grace in word and posture, and with a bright center of spiritual substance: a handsomely rewarding novel. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 2, 1987

Although centered on a violent murder/suicide that takes place early on, this is essentially a meditative, multi-voiced examination of the guilts, prides and lonely accommodations to social class and family myth-making—matters also addressed in A Mother and Two Daughters (1982)—among members of an unhappy North Carolina family immobilized under "layer upon layer of debilitating resentments and intrigues." "It's like being inside a drama in which good influences and bad influences are being played out. . .it's impossible. . .to affix blame," comments urbane Felix, musing on the family of his lover, 40-ish Clare. What caused 28-year-old Theo Quick—a failure in both career and marriage, and father of young Jason—to shoot to death his girlfriend while her child watched, and then kill himself?. Each member of the grieving Quick family, Clare's childhood friend Julia, and Theo's divorced wife, the "hillbilly" Snow, bear their bewildered grief into the dark comers of their recent histories. Theo's father, Ralph, a selfmade man now bankrupt and disillusioned, from a "middling" background, too late tries to redeem the son he'd locked out. Ralph's wife Lily, self-elevated from husband and children, realizes—also too late—that it was Theo, rather than son Rare, she'd "trusted most to love her." Rare, in therapy, painfully calls to mind Theo's "flirting with the idea of his self-destruction." Meanwhile, plain-spoken Snow, who will win a custody battle for Jason, and who shares with Lily (they despise one another) a "secretive separateness" from family, sees a Theo plain, stripped of the caul of the family—yet aches for the essential good man who was buried-in-life. Clare (successful novelist and Lily's daughter by a first marriage), Julia, and Felix attempt to weigh the influences of class and origins on the Southern family, and shade in the portrait of Theo that is never complete—an echo of Theo's criticism of Clare's work: she should write something "that can never be wrapped up." A "slow march" (Clare's expression) of meditations in voices that sound somewhat similar (except for Snow's tangier diction), brightened by Godwin's acute sense of people paralyzed by circumstances—this is thoughtful chipping away at one family's crystalline certainties and disparate dreams. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 1, 1985

Though nothing dramatically robs you of breath in this year's selection, Godwin has welcomely restored an element missing from recent roundups: sex. The last few volumes of the celeb-writer editions have seemed oddly neutered, but not so here. Otherwise, the split and mix between straight realism and writing-workshop filigree is about standard. Best of the realism (though it has by now an individual and characteristic self-consciousness) is Russell Banks' "Sarah Cole: A Type of Love Story"—about a handsome man and a homely woman, a tale of moral irresponsibility as inevitable as it is densely strong; and Sharon Sheehe Stark's "The Johnstown Polka"—about a disaster victim one-upped; a story more appealing for its quirky but confident voice than for its slightly hackneyed construction. Of the academic fiction, the most artful is Michael Bishop's "Dogs' Lives"—dogs in a man's life—and Bev Jafek's "You've Come A Long Way, Mickey Mouse"—Mickey on a TV talk show (bubbly and smart if more than a tad too browbeaten by the manic stylistic gestures of a writer like Gordon Lish). Some stories seem mere simulacra: E.L. Doctorow tries to make like Walker Percy, in an existential mode (but only comes up with paranoia), in "The Leather Man." Norman Rush does a mock-Naipaul in "Instruments of Seduction" (which is, however, one of the more skillful sexual stories here). Maybe most interesting, mainly for its unusual premise, is Bharati Mukherjee's "Angela"—a Bangladeshi teen-ager growing up as the adopted daughter of Iowa parents; while Margaret Edwards' "Roses" has a quiet velocity about it that suggests a moment completely removed from time, a hardeyed idyll. Apart from the Banks, though, little is memorable here. Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 1, 1983

In one very short novel and five short stories, Godwin continues to monitor—with a kind of wary bemusement—the fascinating whorls and asocial display of personalities lost within their own outsize needs and dilemmas. In Mr. Bedford and the Muses, narrator Carrie Ames reconstructs her young days in London (1962-64) when she boarded, along with a handful of other young people, with the Eastons—a middle-aged American couple, mysteriously exiled, still retaining the "outlines" of undoubted privilege and "former beauty." Mrs. Easton orchestrates the postprandial "family" social hour like a duchess, after cooking the best meals in London; Mr. Easton polishes his favorite bizarre anecdote—about a lady with a tail—for each new guest. But the Eastons also lie, steal, and play favorites. So Carrie is alternately chilled and warmed, delighted, enraged, hurt, and amused. . . and catches the past splendor of the Eastons' grand "burning of bridges" before a tail-flick of caprice moved them into the shoddy present. In "Cultural Exchange," a young woman boards with an elderly Dane, an authoritarian old tyrant who has driven away one son and reduced the other to childhood irresponsibility—and she "slips into the role of dutiful daughter," both uneasy and glowing with his approbation (again, as in Mr. Bedford, manipulated by another's fathomless, imperious need). In "A Father's Pleasures," a concert pianist gives his son an extraordinary gift—the father's young second wife—while he himself marries again and continues to play Liszt, his romanticism misting over a cruel past. In "Amanuensis" and "St. John," two writers of fiction wrestle with their blocks and their solitude: one is "released" by companionship—thanks to some vengeful dirty tricks; the other, drawn to the "strange, lonely and mad," finds a bizarre and wonderful passion. And, in the serio/comic "The Angry Year," a pre-Sixties college freshman, wavering between rebellious rage and frat/sorority belonging, hunts down within herself "the crass conformist. . . inside the rebel." In sum: luminous fictions, full of quiet, patiently earned discoveries. Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 1, 1981

Conceived at the 1979 Frankfurt Book Fair, the idea behind this jointly-published (in nine countries) anthology of stories by women is to show—according to an anonymous preface—how "The experience of women in the emancipation process of the seventies has been reflected not only in political developments but in literature as well." This kind of literary offshoot of a research survey rarely delivers significant writing, however, and that's mostly the case here: journalism is the prevailing spirit. Sigrid Brunk (Germany) and Flaminia Morandi (Italy) and Montserrat Roig (Spain) offer breathless arias of unfairness and women's plights. Britt Arenander (Sweden), Hannes Meinkema (Holland), and Angela Carter (England) do slightly better, adding some shape to their gall and moving it a few inches into the territory of fiction. But only three stories are clearly, crisply works of gifted artists: there's the sharp, intriguing voice of France's Muriel Cerf in the tale of a woman's vengeful luck in a Monte Carlo casino; Gall Godwin's nervous "Notes For A Story" (first published in the 1975 collection Dream Children); and Israeli writer Shulamith Hareven's pulsing "Loneliness"—in which a Jerusalem woman is turned into a panting, Proust-like Swarm by a tough street-girl. Other than these few standouts—a well-intentioned undertaking with more social than literary interest. Read full book review >
Released: Jan. 8, 1981

Broadening and deepening the speculations on personal destiny and societal straitjackets touched upon in Violet Clay (1978), Godwin now offers her best work yet: a striking triptych of three contemporary women-in-transit—whose lives "continue to bounce off one another, adding new evidence. . . ." Leonard Strickland—gentle, concerned with Truth—briefly reflects on his life choice of "dealing justly" with family and self rather than manning barricades for humanity at large. . . just before his fatal heart attack. So his widow Nell and his two daughters cluster warily, abrasively, after his death, before spinning apart to new, more stable, curiously renewing passages. Cate, still the family irritant though nearly 40, has yet to produce a pearl of "accomplishment": married and divorced twice, jolting erratically from job to job teaching English (once fired for leading little girls to block the Lincoln Tunnel in protest against the Cambodia bombing), she scorns Success yet would be "outstanding." (A legacy from scrupulous, retiring Leonard?) And Cate ponders these matters as she becomes the lover of Roger Jernigan, a raw, pragmatic pesticide "baron" who lives in a castle; eventually, however, fearing the warm soup of protective security, she'll refuse marriage and have an abortion: "Keep a space ready for what you want" even if you don't now know what it is. Meanwhile, in contrast, younger sister Lydia's life is one of tight compartments (or what Cate regards as a "table-model kingdom"). Mother of two boys, Lydia hones close to her "public image": she sheds nice husband Max because of her lack of "sufficient enthusiasm"; she acquires a degree in sociology, a gifted black woman friend, and a malleable lover; and she'll ultimately star in a local TV cooking show. As Lydia tells her boys: "There are things that life expects from you and things you have a right to expect. . . . Get yourself organized." And as for mother Nell, she's loyal and compassionate with the sad, silly, brave old friends of her circle—and she is gradually weaned back to self and the "mellow ecstasy" of simply "being nobody." Finally, then, the three women—steamrolling Cate, secretly vulnerable Lydia coiled to strike, Nell bolstering and resignedly coping—have a climactic go-round at the family beach cottage. . . which will be symbolically destroyed by an untended fire. With rich, full portraits, seamless philosophic musings, and loamy village humor—a major novel from a talented writer really hitting her stride. Read full book review >
VIOLET CLAY by Gail Godwin
Released: May 16, 1978

Flashbacks at the ready, artist Violet Clay—thirtyish, jobless, broke, drinking heavily in her Manhattan digs—broods over life and Art as she sketches her latest freelance assignment in Gothic book jackets: "over two hundred women running away from houses." Violet has left (with little regret) the structures that would "contain" her—a mild husband, an affair, the prospect of a supermarket-and-babies marriage. Most baffling and frustrating however, are her elusive creative faculties, which seem to lie in a coma. But then Violet is abruptly plunged into the "winding passageways, and trap doors, and dark stairways" of her own fears—through someone else's tortured psyche and art. Her uncle Ambrose, last member of their unhappy and death-ridden Southern family, kills himself while living in a cottage in the woods. It was high-rise Ambrose who had first displayed Manhattan to Violet: "We have to make our impression down there but the real thing is the bird's eye view. . . You've got to go through me, kid." Yet Ambrose, who published one novel in his youth, could never leave those aerial fantasies for the street drudgery of work and deed; with the years, his possibilities simply ran out. Violet brings her own demons to the late Ambrose's cottage for her last mighty try to get past externals and appearances in her art, and she even plays out a mock suicide. Liberation arrives in the person of "Sam," a young woman who, after a cruel life, has "built her own house." And with Violet's portrait of Sam—who has survived hell—her drugged talent at last awakes to sing. Godwin's quick, amusingly sharp-tongued narrative assigns the feminist slant to a rich undertone rather than an overlay, making this a bright, but not uncompassionate scoring of the corrosive, self-pitying dramas we block out for ourselves when we live our lives as bad fiction. Read full book review >
Released: Feb. 1, 1975

Gail Godwin's fifteen stories, to loosely categorize them, are all of a piece. In fact, several pieces which all relate to her three very different novels—sometimes just skimming the shiny, frangible surfaces of her Glass People, sometimes drifting into the bizarre dimensions of her Perfectionists, less often dealing with the disenfranchisement of her Single Girl. Again one can arbitrarily divide most of them into two parts. There are the lesser stories of lives or loves in transit—movable partners, changing patterns, quick dissolves (i.e., "Interstices," "Layover," "Indulgences," "Death in Puerto Vallarta"). But the more interesting ones travel on the oblique frequencies of her various "Dream Children": Mrs. Frye who slips out of her perfect, predictable life to become the mother of the child she never had; or "A Sorrowful Woman" who withdraws altogether from her husband and her little boy; or the "False Lights" which flicker briefly between the two wives of a novelist; or the student-scholar indexing his dissertation of old metaphysical obscurities who becomes troubled by "The Legacy of the Motes" which afflict one eye. Very much closer, notwithstanding the title, is "Some Side Effects of Reality" in which a young woman of thirty finds herself as incomplete as the stories she tries to write which reduce to notations on file cards while she lives "permanently in a state of fiction"; or "Nobody's Home"—about a woman into dowdy middle age who is thinking of leaving her husband even if she's not even a Social Security number and Only half of a bank account. Gail Godwin once again maintains her cool equidistance between intellect and feeling and the stories are all most attractive—detailed with expertise and frosted with elegance. Read full book review >
THE ODD WOMAN by Gail Godwin
Released: Sept. 30, 1974

After all these assertive maidens and housewives, Gail Godwin's The Odd Woman—her major work to date—is very different—just like Jane Clifford, a plain Jane, unfashionable, odd—both single and singular. She has none of the stylish assurance or self-sufficiency of all but one of the people she knows. She's even—God forbid—a romantic, looking for "her best life" while wondering whether one can even have a good one if unattached. With mostly literature to go by (she teaches the English novel in a midwestern college) she would like to find, as George Eliot did, that "Being happy in each other we find everything easy." Thus we come around to the point, or rather go back to it, questioning whether emancipation/enlightenment assures freedom, let alone peace of mind. During the few days here Jane's experiences seem to demand reassessment and a parti pris. She goes home to her grandmother's funeral and picks up pieces of the past: her grandmother, an elegant woman, was never more complete than after she was widowed; her mother has escaped a second impulsive marriage to a rigid, common man via God and the church. While Jane herself leaves for New York to meet Gabriel—her sometime lover, courtesy of the MLA, of two years ("fourteen furtive fucks" as her viciously amusing and defoliating femme-libbing friend Gerda says). Gabriel is not only married but reticent, pedantic and even frugal. There are marvelous scenes whether fantasized or actual and particularized: Jane in Saks trying to buy a dress and leaving it behind in a taxi; or going to see the lonely old man who might have been the ruin of a great-aunt—returned in a coffin. And in the end Jane goes back to school—the anachronism, the odd woman out. May she yet find that best life—perhaps there's no such thing. In lieu of it, settle for a fine book without any of that insular modish sophistication. Gail Godwin achieves a collaboration of the mind and the heart in a novel of experience which can enlarge our own via one of the most appealing young women of many seasons. Read full book review >
GLASS PEOPLE by Gail Godwin
Released: Sept. 1, 1972

A seductively accessorized short novel about beautiful people who live both too perfectly and quite imperfectly — Cameron Bolt, DA en route to the California Attorney Generalship, and his flawlessly lovely Francesca who is increasingly anomic. After all, she has nothing to do — Cameron, whom you suspect is sexually inefficient in his black silk robe, prepares all the little gourmet meals. Finally Francesca goes to visit her mother Kate who was always more like a sister to her but who now is into a wholly new thing — an awesomely organic life with a third husband and pregnancy. Francesca goes to New York; tries and fails to get a job; has a short-lived affair; works for a time as an amanuensis to a wholly freaked out woman who has shaved her head and is searching for the "totally unencumbered" life; and finally Cameron, still in his unimpassioned, custodial fashion, takes her home to have the baby which is not his. . . . By no means as substantial a book as The Perfectionists (1970) but to be enjoyed for the very attractive distraction that it is. Read full book review >
Released: May 20, 1970

Miss Godwin has written a first novel which takes its place immediately alongside of the emancipated entertainments of say Penelope Mortimer. In other words, The Perfectionists can't go much further. During its course, it spends a holiday with John Empson, a psychologist of eclectic and still "evolving" notions; Dane, his relatively new wife, and Robin his illegitimate son who is a "species all by himself." He doesn't talk at all and sometimes he screams endlessly. Then Dane has what John would call "precipitations"—John says things which are unnatural (analyzing her "soul on the prowl") and does things which make her uncomfortable all the while applying none of his psychology to approaching Robin. The scene is Majorca and very subtly Miss Godwin manages to convey just how "exceptional" (viz. repugnant) John is and how "challenging" (viz. difficult) the marriage up to the drastic last scene. She has written a novel which is a considerable attractant—original in its situation, astute in its insight and quite impeccably styled. Read full book review >