Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
In An Answer from Limbo, Brendan Tierney, a thirty-year-old Irishman who has emigrated to New York City, is supporting himself, his wife, and their two bratty children by working for a magazine while also trying to write his first novel. Moved to competitive action by a younger friend’s announcement that his own novel will soon be published, Brendan hits on what he regards as a great solution to speeding his creative career: He brings his mother from Belfast to look after the children, encourages his wife, Jane, to take a job, quits his own, and devotes himself unreservedly to his novel.
Brendan’s maneuvers prove as simplistic as they are selfish. Mother Tierney turns out not to be the simple, stalwart person she appears to be. Her dreams and fantasies reveal a troubled heart and mind as she, with her unquestioning Catholic faith, comes to live among pagans as an unpaid, overworked servant, made to feel like an exploited intruder. Jane Tierney looks on religion as a vulgar superstition while employing psychoanalytic jargon as her dogma. Hers is a spiritual emptiness that she seeks to fill by having a humiliating affair with the office creep.
As for Brendan, his ruthless ambition to become a successful writer—rich, socially prominent, sexually magnetic—permits him to rationalize his sacrifice of his family to his work; he is certain that he is offering himself on the altar of art, as such authors as Gustave Flaubert and Thomas...
(The entire section is 529 words.)
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