PEARL

Mary Gordon, Author . Pantheon $24.95 (368p) ISBN 978-0-375-42315-4

Gordon's latest novel opens in medias res on Christmas night in New York City with a phone call from the State Department. Maria Meyers's 20-year-old daughter, Pearl, supposedly studying linguistics for a year in Ireland, has chained herself to a flagpole outside the American embassy in Dublin. For reasons that are unclear, she has starved herself for six weeks and is now in serious danger of dying from dehydration. Without understanding Pearl's motivation for the hunger strike, Maria must try and save her daughter's life. Readers of Gordon's fiction (Spending ; The Company of Women ) and memoir (The Shadow Man ) will recognize familiar themes in her latest book: Maria is a single mother raised as a Catholic by her converted Jewish father; she comes of age in the 1960s and trades her religion for that era's brand of critical thinking. Now, with her daughter dying, Maria must re-examine her faith, her parenting and her political ideals. Told by an unidentified first-person narrator, the story unfolds over the course of a few days. Even as the life-or-death crisis comes to a head, Maria and her best friend, Joseph, are busy tackling God, sacrifice, female autonomy and the meaning of happiness. The novel's conceit provides plenty of opportunities for philosophical musing, but given this set of morose and mostly unlikable characters, the relentless self-examination grows tedious. Agent Peter Matson at Sterling Lord Literistic . 7-city author tour. (Jan. 11)

Reviewed on: 10/18/2004
Release date: 01/01/2005
Genre: Fiction
Hardcover - 648 pages - 978-0-7862-7644-8
Open Ebook - 246 pages - 978-0-375-42358-1
Paperback - 354 pages - 978-1-4000-7807-3
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