MOTHER OF PEARL by Mary Morrissy


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 A triptych about motherhood--portraits of three troubled women whose stories are deeply, darkly, inextricably linked--from critic and first-novelist Morrissy, fiction reviewer for The Irish Times. When Irene Rivers, who's already suffered the indignities of tuberculosis and an unloving family, realizes that she'll never give birth to a child of her own, she walks into a hospital maternity ward and walks out with a tiny baby girl she names Pearl. Several years later, the truth comes out. Irene is taken to jail, and Pearl, now called Mary, is returned to Rita Spain, the mother she's never known. Rita, a widow with a younger child, must come to terms with the fact that her kidnapped child was a baby she'd not welcomed wholeheartedly to begin with. Little Mary, meanwhile, is never told the story of her ordeal--an improbably kept secret, since her kidnapping made headlines for months. As she grows up, Mary is tormented with confused visions of lost children that eventually lead her to destroy her own marriage and her own chance at motherhood. Morrissy writes with the grace of a poet. Particularly--if bleakly--compelling is her depiction of Irene's early life: the bullying lighthouse-keeper father, the superstitious mother, and the scenes of daily life in the TB sanitorium with its petulant, coughing cardplayers and endless gray afternoons. Lovestruck Rita Spain, fresh from the convent and plunged into a shotgun marriage, makes another vivid portrait. Naive, slightly spoiled, she never knows quite what to feel about her disappointing, runty, premature baby--a baby someone else apparently wanted more than she did. Unfortunately, it's this baby's own story that's the weakest part of the picture. Mary/Pearl is only a shadow. We never fully see her--which makes the novel's resolution, while moving, not really satisfying. Boldly painted and full of promise, but not quite finished.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-684-19667-0
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Scribner
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1995