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Tuesday, October 3, 2006

Mary and O’Neil — Book Review

As much as I liked Mary and O’Neil by Justin Cronin, I’ve had a difficult time formulating any real thoughts on this novel in stories. It just sort of brings the reader along for some of the defining moments in the lives of the title characters, definitely pulling the reader in, yet there’s never any sense of suspense or climax. These elements are present, it’s just that the tale stays on a calm, even, and somewhat sad keel from start to finish.

The novel opens with O’Neil’s parents visiting their son at college. While my anal side kept trying to figure out why the heck the book title referred to a character that was no where to be found, the parents’ story was quite compelling. A long-married couple comes to a metaphoric and literal fork in the road, each with their own secret. A marriage that appears rock solid from the outside is filled with unspoken questions and doubts. Their sudden and accidental death leaves unanswered questions for their adult children, Mary and O’Neil.

I think part of the difficulty in reviewing the novel is its focus on O’Neil. His bond with his sister is a rather prominent in the piece, with an entire story focused on her. All of the stories are very good, but the side trips make it difficult to read it as one piece. I’m just not sure why they bothered with the “novel in stories” concept as opposed to simply making it a collection of short stories.

Nonetheless, following these characters through the loss of parents, finding themselves, lost loves, abortion, and more, is a solid and often touching read. All of the characters ring true to life, and the stories touch on many of the ordeals of life.

Starting out in an upbeat mood might help with this somewhat sad set of tales, but Cronin’s debut Mary and O’Neil is not too bad at all.

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