by Mary Gordon ‧ RELEASE DATE: Oct. 1, 1989
A rather static novel by the popular author of the rich and lively Final Payments (1978), The Company of Women (1980), etc. Here, an elderly man is about to leave a nursing home to arrive at his house in Queens in honor of a vow to his dying wife. Awaiting his return with love and/or dread is a houseful of descendants, all with their wracking memories and current fears and loathings. The novel consists of a packet of family profiles, members touched in one way or another by the long-ago travails of a dying, cursing, raging woman. Vincent MacNamara, 88, and Ellen, 90, have been married 66 years, but Vincent dreads a return to the violent wife he no longer knows. The MacNamara family gradually assembles in the house Vincent and Ellen have lived in for 22 years. Daughter Theresa--hard, cold, punishing, and pious--is there, but daughter Magdalene, the recluse feeding on images of a youth of glamour and success, alternately flirting and drunkenly accusing on the phone, will undoubtedly never leave her room. Ellen loved neither daughter; son John, killed in WW II, was adored. Anger was Ellen's ""chief food,"" an anger born of an Irish childhood of betrayal and shame. Like Ellen, Vincent had come from Ireland to ""The Other Side."" found pleasures in work, and admired his tough-fibered, battling wife. Among the grandchildren, two were loved and reared by Ellen: John's son Dan, by a meek wile whom Ellen had driven on to desert her baby: and Cam, Magdalene's daughter, married to a sad ""shipwrecked man"" and now wildly happy with a lover. There are other descendants, all legatees of love denied, bestowed or stillborn. So at the close Vincent makes another crossing--from a sunlit world of simple pleasures in a congenial Catholic home to a ""porous globe"" of circular miseries. But ""there was no choice."" Gordon's case-history approach to the MacNamaras freezes her characters to an immobility in the present. (Some, like Ellen's daughters, promise much, and one yearns for progressive movement and interplay.) Also, although there are bright speculations concerning the Irish-American experience, the MacNamaras seem to live in a vacuum without the neighborhood ambiance of, say, Final Payments.
Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1989
Page Count: -
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1989
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