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Mary and O'Neil by Justin Cronin
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Mary and O'Neil (2001)

by Justin Cronin

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Linked stories, mostly about the oddly-named O'Neil Burke and his family, and the woman he marries, Mary. Despite the title, the relationship between the title characters is not fleshed out very well. We don't see them meet, nor spend much time together. But there are two sections about their getting pregnant, and going into labor. Most of the time, there's an emotional distancing between the narrator and the story, I felt. The relationship between O'Neil and his parents was handled very well, and was the strongest part of the book, for me. Cronin has an impressive understanding of what it's like to be a parent facing the empty nest stage (which I am just beginning to experience). There is emotional truth here without sentimentality. I hope he comes back to writing serious fiction once he's made a bunch of money selling Stephen King knock-offs. He's a great writer. (Cronin, not King.) ( )
  BobNolin | Sep 25, 2012 |
Eight stories of elegant and soulful writing and linked either by Mary, O'neil or both. ( )
  eembooks | Jul 22, 2010 |
Great realistic, sweet, well-written story about love, loss and family. ( )
  bfreed98 | Oct 21, 2009 |
SPOILER ALERT:

Justin's Cronin's first novel is broken up into a collection of eight short stories about the love between parents, siblings, children and lovers.

The book doesn't begin with the title characters, but rather with O'Neil's parents, Arthur and Miriam. The entirety of the book is balanced on the early revelation of the sweet complexity of their love in life and death. Their death in the first story sets the tone for the rest of the stories, providing their children with both answers and more questions about love and loss.

Mary and O'Neil's love affair is one brought about by just these questions. Mary lives with the ghost of a child she aborted early on in the book, while O'Neil's parents live in his memory with such vitality that he actually tries to call them after the birth of his first child—only to unexpectedly have a sad and beautiful conversation with a lonely stranger. Cronin creates Mary and O'Neil as the answers to each other's questions. Even the names that Cronin picks for them overflow with a sense of completeness: "Mary" and "O'Neil," sound more like a first name and surname than two separate characters.

The surname as name only makes more sense when one considers O'Neil's presence in the book as father figure. It is O'Neil who develops as a source of strength for several characters in the book, anointing him the ultimate patriarch of this novel. Cronin is poetic and beautifully subtle when he baptizes O'Neil's relationship with the woman who completes him and gives him a first name. The baptism is complete when Mary is ready to walk down the aisle and it begins to rain. O'Neil looks at her and all the guests at their wedding and, Cronin writes, "in his heart he marries each one of them."

Cronin's style is delicate and full of purpose, just like all of the relationships between his characters. It is hard not to relate to this book in some way if you've ever loved someone, harder still to not find Cronin's prose captivating in its wisdom and sincerity. ( )
1 vote elizdaza | Aug 1, 2007 |
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Epigraph
Nobody sees it happen, but it does. For suddenly, it seems, the woods are bare.

John Updike, "Leaf Season"
Dedication
For Leslie
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Arthur in darkness - drifting, drifting - the planet spinning toward dawn: he awakens in gray November daybreak to the sounds of running water and a great arm brushing the side of his house.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385333595, Paperback)

Mary and O’Neil frequently marveled at how, of all the lives they might have led, they had somehow found this one together. When they met at the Philadelphia high school where they’d come to teach, each had suffered a profound loss that had not healed. How likely was it that they could learn to trust, much less love, again?

Justin Cronin’s poignant debut traces the lives of Mary Olson and O’Neil Burke, two vulnerable young teachers who rediscover in each other a world alive with promise and hope. From the formative experiences of their early adulthood to marriage, parenthood, and beyond, this novel in stories illuminates the moments of grace that enable Mary and O’Neil to make peace with the deep emotional legacies that haunt them: the sudden, mysterious death of O’Neil’s parents, Mary’s long-ago decision to end a pregnancy, O’Neil’s sister’s battle with illness and a troubled marriage. Alive with magical nuance and unexpected encounters, Mary and O’Neil celebrates the uncommon in common lives, and the redemptive power of love.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:26:11 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

"Mary and O'Neil frequently marveled at how, of all the lives they might have led, they had somehow found this one together. When they met at the Philadelphia high school where they'd come to teach, each had suffered a profound loss that had not healed. How likely was it that they could learn to trust, much less love, again?"--Publisher description.… (more)

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