Mary and O'Neil: Fiction
Justin Cronin / Author Dial Press $21.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-385
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. Agent, Ellen Levine. (Feb. 13) Forecast: This is a promising debut collection, and national print advertising in the New Yorker and alternative weeklies should target the appropriate readership. Sponsorship announcements will also feature the title on NPR.
Reviewed on: 02/01/2001