WINNER OF THE PEN/HEMINGWAY AWARD • “An astonishingly good first novel . . . fully engaging from the first paragraph. What a gift: to be able to live alongside these people for a while.”—Ann Patchett, Chicago Tribune
Mary and O’Neil: They are like any other couple. They have survived loss and found love and managed the occasional hard-earned laugh as they move toward the future, hearts thick with hope. Each human life is ever changing, born of moments large and small—births and deaths and weddings, grave mistakes and chance encounters and acts of surprising courage—and in this unforgettable book, Justin Cronin makes vivid how those moments connect us all, making us more than we could ever be on our own.
Alight with nuance, sly humor, and startling wisdom, Mary and O’Neil celebrates the uncommon grace to be found in common lives
Praise for Mary and O’Neil
“Admirably fearless.”—The New York Times Book Review
“The kind of storytelling that goes down easy, and sticks to your ribs.”—The Philadelphia Inquirer
“Cronin succeeds, touchingly and tenderly, in portraying life itself as a triumph of hope over experience.”—The Boston Globe
The title of Cronin's debut collection of eight interconnected stories, set between 1979 and the present, implies that the content will be devoted to the relationship between the eponymous duo. Instead, they don't appear in the same tale until halfway through, detailing their marriage in their early 30s after both become teachers. Before this, there's a lengthy opening story concerning the events leading up to the accidental death of O'Neil's parents, Arthur and Miriam; another story on how O'Neil and his older sister, Kay, cope with the aftermath; and a third about the abortion Mary has at the age of 22. After the wedding, the stories still don't always focus on the pair, with one devoted solely to Kay's own dysfunctional marriage. Cronin, a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, is an accomplished craftsman, and at times his prose is quite moving and beautiful, though the sadness he channels is too often uninflected by humor. Playing out variations on the theme of the inability of parents and children to truly know one another, Cronin is capable of creating fresh poignancy. Readers interested in going straight to the best of the collection should head for "Orphans" and "A Gathering of Shades," in which the author affectingly paints how the two siblings help each other through the pain of living and dying, showcasing the real love story here.