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THE COURAGE OF GIRLS by Jean McGarry

THE COURAGE OF GIRLS

By Jean McGarry

Pub Date: April 17th, 1992
ISBN: 0-8135-1771-0
Publisher: Rutgers Univ.

 After two books of linked short stories about Irish Catholics in Providence, Rhode Island, McGarry uses her first novel to track another Providence native, a dÇclassÇ lapsed Catholic who moves to New York. Loretta Costello is the only child of working-class parents who fight and drink but give their daughter a companionable kind of love; her mother Eileen may be the best pal Loretta will ever have. Then both parents are killed in a car crash, and nine-year-old Loretta must move in with her aunt and uncle and cousin Gloria. There is no brawling in the dour Gillis household, but Loretta never more than grudgingly accepts the new regime; the notion of a rightful place is central to the novel, and Loretta loses hers early on. For a while salvation seems at hand in the form of Daniel St. Cyr, a lonely Harvard student who swoops down on her small Catholic school in Massachusetts and makes her see stars. Eventually they live together in a one-room Greenwich Village apartment; while the sharp-tongued, intolerant Daniel works on his dissertation on Kant, Loretta stays home and sketches or, guided by her one friend, art student Margaret Hopkins, discovers what remains of Bohemian life in the Village (the time is the mid to late 70's). McGarry moves easily between past and present and offers some amusing vignettes but doesn't do much with the becalmed Loretta and her slowly worsening marriage until a miscarriage and resultant depression take her back to Providence to regroup. An awkward, murky ending leaves her crisis unresolved. Line by line, McGarry's novel has considerable charm and, at its best, the bite and wit of a Mary McCarthy; but she doesn't have much of a story to tell, skimping on the Loretta/Daniel relationship and neglecting the other half of the picture, the wealthy St. Cyrs, almost completely.