MARY GORDON IS A BIG FAT PHONY Nothing is more depressing than reading the New York Times Book Review. Just the other day Mary Gordon wrote a front page review praising the new novel by Louise Erdrich, the famous Native American author. Now Ive got nothing against Louise Erdrich, but Ive been reading the novels and essays of Mary Gordon for over thirty years. And by the time I finished reading the review, I just wanted to throw up. Read her first two novels, Final Payments and The Company of Women and you see where Mary Gordon is really coming from. The innocent, secluded, Irish Catholic world that Mary Gordon celebrates in her early novels is a world that was only made possible by systematic racial violence on a massive scale going back nearly a hundred years to the Draft Riots of 1863. Only those early novels of Mary Gordons dont really celebrate sisterhood. Worst of all, in a Mary Gordon novel the Prim Irish Heroine is always recoiling in disgust from noisy black kids dribbling basketballs, or loudmouthed black women arguing about sex, or coarse campus radicals bragging about wanting to be born Third World. Check out Mary Gordons truly astonishing biography of Joan of Arc. Did you know that Joan of Arc never menstruated? I don't know how Mary Gordon does her research, but she seems to think that's terribly important. Joan of Arc matters to the whole world because she saved something truly eternal and important, like French civilization. Mary Gordon reveres women who tell the stories of the forgotten, like Toni Morrison and Louise Erdrich. Evidently in her newest novel Louise Erdrich tells the story of a Native American priest who falls for a female parishioner, but realizes their love can never be. Mary Gordon quotes the priest as saying something like, you want her, but you can never have her.
SPOILER ALERT: This 1980 novel tells the story of Felicitas Taylor, whose widowed mother is among a group of New York City five women in the thrall of a conversative Roman Catholic priest named Father Cyprian. The story opens in 1963, when Felicitas is fourteen, and depicts her importance to the women and man who surround: She is their last best hope, Cyprian tells them. The story then shifts to 1969, and Felicitas is attending a small Catholic college, majoring in classics and reading Latin and Greek. Felicitas and her daughter are living in a house her mother built in Cyprian's compound in upstate New York. All the other women have also moved upstate, and they've now formed a new company of women to raise Felicitas' daughter, Linda. As a devout Roman Catholic woman in 1969, she should have some misgivings -- some thought, at minimum -- about going to bed with the divorced Robert. While I can believe that there were women who were as sheltered as Felicitas is supposed to have been -- even women growing up in New York City among single and widowed women who have worked for their livings for decades -- I find it not believable that a highly intelligent woman attending one of the finest universities on the planet, one that was in turmoil -- on strike!
This makes him somewhat of a failure in my book, but he has a following of women who come to see him once a year. In the end Felicitas gets married to an average kind of guy from the hardware store. I found this book a little too weird and dysfunctional for my taste.
Anyone who has not grown up in the Catholic church of the late 50s and early 60s will probably find little to resonate with in this book.
I'm still not sure how she managed it but in spite of practically excoriating the church through the characters of some of the priests, Gordon winds up conveying a real affinity for Catholicism, the kind of affection you feel toward friends you've known all your life and love in an abiding way almost because you know their flaws. I wish I could write 1/10 as well as she does.
And it didn't feel like genre fiction at all and now that I'm perusing her other books on goodreads, I see that she actually looks like a serious literary type and not just a genre writer diamond in the rough.
I don't like to ascribe characers beliefs to the author. I parts of the novel set in the 1950 (I think) educated Irish folks speak poorly of their lesser cousins -- which to me, rang true to form, and not as the author being racist. I thought religion was treated very superficially, even though the main characters were mostly practising Catholics. Felicitas is the main characer. An only child raised by her widowed mom and her spinster friends, and the angry priest. If you are an observant Catholic, I don't think this book has anything to offer.
In this book she writes about devoutly Catholic women which are so foreign to me but I found them all interesting and a great commentary on the choices open to women during the 40s and 50s.
Mary Gordon was born in Far Rockaway, New York, to Anna Gagliano Gordon, an Italian-Irish Catholic mother, and David Gordon, a Jewish father who converted to Catholicism. She and her husband, Arthur Cash, live in New York City and Hope Valley, Rhode Island.