Howard, Maureen (Vol. 151)
Maureen Howard 1930-
American novelist, memoirist, editor, and short story writer.
The following entry presents an overview of Howard's career through 1998. For further information on her life and works, see CLC, Volumes 5, 14, and 46.
Howard has garnered widespread critical acclaim for her novels about women searching for identity amid their career aspirations and within their socially prescribed roles. The female characters in her novels are frequently conflicted and struggle to assert their individuality, often by breaking from their families—particularly from mother figures. Howard celebrates the assertion of the human will to affect change, yet, in her works, such action does not always insure a happy or conclusive ending. Critics have commended Howard's precise use of language, her double-edged humor, and the loose structure of many of her novels, which allows readers to draw their own conclusions about characters and incidents. Howard is best known for her critically acclaimed memoir, Facts of Life (1978), which received the National Book Critics Circle Award for general nonfiction.
Howard was born on June 28, 1930, in Bridgeport, Connecticut. The city of Bridgeport played a large role in Howard's formative years, and she would later use the town as the setting for several of her novels. Howard was raised in Bridgeport's Irish neighborhoods, and her Irish-immigrant father, William, was the county detective for Fairfield County. Howard attended Smith College and earned a bachelor's degree in 1952. After college, she worked for several publishing and advertising firms. In 1961, Howard published her first novel, Not a Word about Nightingales. From 1967 to 1968, she worked at the New School for Social Research, in New York City, as a lecturer in English and creative writing. Howard has continued to teach and lecture on such subjects as drama, English, and creative writing, holding positions at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Columbia University, Yale University, Amherst College, and Brooklyn College. She was awarded a Guggenheim fellowship in 1967 and the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1980. She has also been nominated several times for the American Book Award for autobiography/biography and the PEN/Faulkner Award for nonfiction.
Not a Word about Nightingales focuses on the disruptions within a family when the father decides to leave his wife and children to pursue a life of “feeling” during a vacation in Peruvia. After eighteen months, his wife sends their daughter to bring him back; by this time, her father has become disenchanted with his hedonistic lifestyle and returns without much resistance. In Bridgeport Bus (1966), Mary Agnes Keeley, an aspiring middle-aged writer, leaves her hometown of Bridgeport on the bus to begin a new life in New York City. Mary Agnes has difficulty adjusting to life in the city and finds herself surrounded by a neurotic roommate and a suicidal cousin. She eventually returns to Bridgeport, unmarried and pregnant, to take care of her widowed mother. The award-winning memoir Facts of Life directly addresses Howard's affinity for rewriting and reinterpreting personal narratives, this time using her own life story. The work vividly portrays her parents' conflicting personalities and the consequences of her strict Catholic upbringing. Howard uses the memoir genre to call the “facts” of her life into question, demonstrating the differences and discrepancies between perception and memory. In Expensive Habits (1986), Margaret Flood, a famous American writer, undergoes bypass heart surgery and is given a new lease on life. During her recovery, she discovers that her life and career are filled with lies and untruths, some of which have hurt others. As she heals physically, she also attempts to heal the mistakes she has made in the past. Natural History (1992) is both a narrative and an anthropological assortment of facts about Bridgeport, Connecticut. The novel's loose plot focuses on Billy Bray, a county detective and the patriarch of a large family. Set in 1943, the story focuses on Bray's investigation of the murder of a soldier by an officer's wife. Bray quickly closes the investigation, but his family is plagued for years by the murdered man's brother, who seeks revenge for what he feels was Bray's inability to bring his brother's killer to justice. The novel is filled with details concerning the people, history, and culture of Bridgeport. A section titled “Double Entry” juxtaposes the narrative events with arcane Bridgeport trivia. A Lover's Almanac (1998) is stylistically similar to Natural History in that each includes both pages of straight narration and alternative bits of history, weather forecasts, folk wisdom, and trivia. The novel opens with the ending of a romantic relationship between two characters, Louise Moffett and Artie Freeman, who are splitting apart on the eve of the millennium. After the break-up, Louise and Artie attempt to impose order and criteria on their love lives, much as an almanac provides an order for natural events by presenting predictions based on facts. In 2001, Howard published Big As Life: Three Tales for Spring, a mixture of short stories and memoirs, focusing on renewal and the season of Spring.
Howard has been referred to by some critics as a “woman's writer” due to her recurring focus on female characters searching for self-awareness. Reviewers have consistently praised her prose and her well-drawn characters, both central and minor. Critics have compared her narrative style to that of Virginia Woolf, Henry James, and Toni Morrison. Howard has been noted for her skill at presenting differing points of view and her ability to seamlessly handle transitions between the past, present, and future. Many critics have applauded how Howard appropriates different literary genres for use in her fiction. For example, Natural History makes use of the screenplay, encyclopedia, diary, and history book genres within the central narrative. However, several critics have objected to Howard's tendency toward digression and loose plot structures. Some reviewers have argued that these tangential details make her novels—most notably Natural History and A Lover's Almanac—self-conscious and difficult to read. Some critics have panned the innovative and experimental narrative techniques used in these two works, such as the use of parallel texts on the right- and left-hand pages in Natural History, which Noel Perrin called “a semi-psychedelic melange.” Critical reaction to Howard's seemingly endless fascination with the city of Bridgeport has also been mixed. Some reviewers have derided her continual use of the city as a focus in her novels as repetitive and uninteresting. However, other commentators have praised Howard's utilization of the city as a major character. Many agreed with Pearl K. Bell, who stated that the depiction of Bridgeport in Howard's works ultimately seeks “to defy the evanescence of memory,. … [and] lament the irrevocable dissolution of vanished experience.”
Not a Word about Nightingales (novel) 1961
Bridgeport Bus (novel) 1966
Before My Time (novel) 1975
Seven American Women Writers of the Twentieth Century [editor] (nonfiction) 1977
Facts of Life (memoirs) 1978
Grace Abounding (novel) 1982
The Penguin Book of Contemporary American Essays [editor] (nonfiction) 1984
Expensive Habits (novel) 1986
Natural History (novel) 1992
A Lover's Almanac (novel) 1998
Big As Life: Three Tales for Spring (short stories and memoirs) 2001
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SOURCE: “The Lure of the Bright Lights,” in Washington Post Book World, May 27, 1984, p. 11.
[In the following review, Perrin offers a positive assessment of Bridgeport Bus, praising Howard's treatment of the theme of personal transformation.]
Mary Agnes Keeley, 35 years old, 5 feet 11 inches tall, thin as a pencil, lives with her widowed mother in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Her father, a Bridgeport fireman, died when she was 15. Right after high school she went to work to help put her brother through Fordham. He is now an FBI agent, assigned to the Buffalo, New York, office, with a wife and three children. Mary Agnes is secretary to the president of Standard Zipper in Bridgeport. She is a virgin. She is also on the edge of martyrdom to her mother, a natural genius at using guilt feelings and ill health to control her children.
That martyrdom does not occur. Instead this novel does. Mary Agnes takes the Bridgeport bus. That is, she quits her job, leaves home, and goes to New York. Mary Agnes—only let's call her Ag, as most people do—has always been bright. Her one defiance of her mother over the years has been the taking of a whole series of night courses in literature. She reads voraciously, has ambitions to write.
In fairly short order she is writing: not glamorously, to be sure, only advertising copy for a manufacturer of Velcro fasteners. But she's...
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SOURCE: “Maureen Howard: Satire and Sympathy,” in Washington Post Book World, May 11, 1986, p. 3.
[In the following review, Yardley offers a positive assessment of Expensive Habits, commenting on the ways that the novel breaks from Howard's earlier work.]
By contrast with Maureen Howard's four previous novels, Expensive Habits is long and, in the conventional sense, ambitious: the other books are delicate miniatures, elegantly crafted and somewhat elliptical in narrative method, but Expensive Habits attempts to paint a relatively large canvas and does so in a rather straightforward manner. The novel appears—the impression is fortified by the attendant publicity campaign—to be Howard's attempt to reach for a larger readership than she has thus far enjoyed; it is an honorable effort, and in no way does Howard compromise her exceptionally high standards in the process, but Expensive Habits is an odd book that is more likely to provoke curiosity and respect than affection and admiration.
Readers familiar with Howard's earlier fiction and her fine autobiography, Facts of Life, will find much here that is agreeably familiar. She writes equally well about two strikingly different milieus, both of which are present in Expensive Habits: the domestic life of genteel but threadbare Roman Catholic families, and the bitchy, narcissistic world of the...
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SOURCE: A review of Expensive Habits, in Los Angeles Times Book Review, May 18, 1986, p. 1.
[In the following mixed review, Johnson argues that Expensive Habits is a well-written work, but argues that there are several unclear plot elements and character motivations.]
Maureen Howard's fine fifth novel attempts more, and accomplishes more, than all the others, marking her steady progress toward the highest rank of American fiction writers. The prose of Expensive Habits is dense, complex, disturbing, authoritative. Its several voices suit her story and vividly demonstrate her literary intelligence. It's dazzling to see how deftly she wields her author's tools. Point of view, constricting for some writers, becomes in her ken a group of handy launching pads for better views of the territory; and as for the knotty business of time, she slides gracefully from now to then to tomorrow without a sign of discomfort.
The story, set in Manhattan, is—I believe—about death; how Margaret Flood, a famous American writer who has usually managed to be around the action of the decades, avoids a medical death sentence by a successful bypass operation, only to be “faked out by death: It found her” in a shocking climax I won't reveal.
To “set the record straight,” she tells of her first husband, Jack Flood, who deceived her with a nurse, and her real...
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SOURCE: “Design for Living,” in New York Review of Books, December 3, 1992, pp. 30–32.
[In the following review, Edwards argues Natural History's unconventional narrative structure complements the novel's thematic material.]
Anyone who loves natural history museums knows that the first moment we enter one, particularly as children, we understand that the collections are not the main point; they are for soberer minds. The point is the dioramas, those magical windows opening on times and places we will never actually visit. And the best dioramas, for our purposes, include not just simulacra of animals and plants but also the human forms posed among them, as if delicately alluding to the human artifice that puts dioramas in natural history museums. We are looking to see not so much nature and its history as ourselves in nature and history, and the nearer the figures come to “life size” the better they please.
Natural History, which includes Maureen Howard's reflections on dioramas and the American past, first shows us particular human figures in a particular time and place: Bridgeport, Connecticut, in the 1980s, though this “present” is deeply shaded by the past. Bridgeport is where Howard's main characters, a brother and sister named James and Catherine Bray, happened to grow up. Much of the novel consists of their memories, of themselves when young and of...
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SOURCE: “Circling Back to Bridgeport: Maureen Howard's Unconventional Saga of a Family and a City,” in Chicago Tribune Books, October 25, 1992, p. 1.
[In the following positive review of Natural History, Anshaw commends the novel's “subtle and subjective notion of story.”]
Stories can't always be held within conventional forms. Although novels most often put one page after the other in a forward progression, most narratives in life are not composed of a neatly chronological sequence of events, or even of just the events themselves. In truth, stories jump forward then back again, head off in several directions at once and include the imaginings of the participants as well as their behavior. It is this subtle and subjective notion of story that Maureen Howard plies in her latest novel.
Natural History is the story of both a family, the Brays, and a city, Bridgeport, Conn., (Howard's own home town). The first section of the book covers just a single March Saturday during World War II, following each of the Brays—parents Billy and Nell, children James and Cath—through small, quotidian events that nonetheless demonstrate the characters that will determine their fates.
Billy, a county detective, begins investigating the shooting death of a young soldier by the “Double Indemnity”-ish, 23-year-old wife of an absent Army major. Cath is humiliated...
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SOURCE: “The Fragmentation of Reality,” in Los Angeles Times Book Review, October 25, 1992, p. 3.
[In the following review, Eder offers a mixed assessment of Natural History, noting that Howard's narrative technique is too unfocused and self-conscious.]
Natural History is a novel about the dissolution of American immigrant values in the second half of the 20th Century, and of our industrial cities where those values once flourished. This, though, is like saying that Magritte's famous painting is about a curved wooden pipe. What the painting really is about is a displacement of reality achieved by the words at the bottom: “This is not a pipe.”
Maureen Howard has tunneled beneath her story of what happens over the last 40 years to Billy and Nell Bray of Bridgeport, Conn., and their children, James and Catherine. She lays a train of metafictional gun powder that explodes and scatters the story. She is a powerful writer, and the unexploded bits are shards of a richly mordant family novel.
But Howard senses that such a thing, like Newtonian physics, is not adequate to our times, and that the reality it encapsulates accounts for too little. Unless it is disrupted, her fragmented method suggests, realism cannot convey the simultaneously horrific and trivial quality of Bridgeport's collapse into crack houses, jobless ghettos, welfare deserts and a gutted...
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SOURCE: A review of Natural History, in New Republic, November 9, 1992, pp. 46–49.
[In the following review, Robinson praises the experimental narrative techniques used by Howard in Natural History.]
Maureen Howard writes about her abiding subject, the family, with fierce rigor, as though she were at the same time writing in defense of the family novel itself. Not for her the cozy domestic zones where passions are labeled and personal histories are smugly untangled into “relationships.” In the seven books she has published since 1960, Howard's humor and ready sympathy are buttressed by a stubborn refusal to slim down her people and their stories. She insists on taking her time, conferring on her novels such seriousness that reading them takes time, too. The narratives are bumpy, full of abrupt turns, disconcerting stops and starts. Readers keep busy putting together all the pieces she lays before them. “Come now,” she seems to say, “You didn't expect me to do all the work for you.”
Howard deliberately makes it impossible to generalize about her families, fending off the sociologists with a barrage of complicating information. “I may have a fatal resistance to abstractions,” she wrote in her deft 1978 memoir, Facts of Life. Indeed there are few “key” passages in Howard's books where significances are at last spelled out, for she knows that a bald...
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SOURCE: “Lost in Bridgeport,” in Washington Post Book World, November 22, 1992, p. 6.
[In the following review, Perrin offers a negative assessment of Natural History, calling the novel “almost unreadable.”]
In 1965, Maureen Howard published a stunningly good novel called Bridgeport Bus. It's about a 35-year-old virgin named Mary Agnes Keeley. She lives in Bridgeport, Conn., with her suffocating Irish mother (her fireman father is dead) and works as secretary to the president of a zipper company. Then she breaks loose and goes to New York. She finds men, adventures, a somewhat better job; she writes one part of the book herself in a surrealistic mode.
Thirteen years later, Maureen Howard published an exceptionally well-written memoir called Facts of Life. The central character is another M. K., only this time it is Howard herself. Maiden name: Maureen Kearns. The book tells of her childhood in an Irish section of Bridgeport, Conn., where her father was a policeman. Not a cop on the beat, but a detective—in fact, the County Detective for Fairfield County.
Now Maureen Howard has published an almost unreadable novel called Natural History. It's about an Irish family in Bridgeport, Conn., named Bray. Billy Bray, the father, is the County Detective for Fairfield County. Like the Keeleys and the Kearnses, he has two children, a daughter...
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SOURCE: “Tales of Two Cities,” in Women's Review of Books, Vol. 10, No. 3, December, 1992, p. 20.
[In the following review, Pool argues that the series of “natural, social, and personal histories” portrayed in Natural History do not add up to a compelling whole.]
Anyone seeking to pinpoint the nature of the contemporary novel will have a rough time of it. Wearing old-fashioned stays, postmodern garb, or singular outfits with no designer labels at all, our novels march their many ways, fulfilling the possibilities or landing in the pitfalls of their chosen modes.
Both of these novels, for example, revolve around an American city and family, American lives and life. But from Maureen Howard's Bridgeport, Connecticut, to Marilyn Dorn Staats' Atlanta, Georgia, lies an enormous fictional plain. Staats in her modest first novel invites a traditional suspension of disbelief. Howard in her extravagant sixth does a tango with the very concept of “once upon a time,” which she refers to in Natural History as the “contract between teller and all children, by which I mean us kids, lead-in to magic remodeling of reality.”
In Looking for Atlanta, Staats tells a familiar tale, and she tells it in a familiar mode, even if her narrator is unusually situated on her best friend's roof, accompanied by her yardman, Harold, and armed with a bottle of...
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SOURCE: “Around and over and about Bridgeport,” in New Leader, December 14, 1992, pp. 24–25.
[In the following review, Davis offers a mixed assessment of Natural History.]
Matched in her spectacular range perhaps only by Toni Morrison, Maureen Howard can write in any style she chooses. Almost defiantly she follows her fancy wherever it leads, gathering unlikely personalities along the way. Natural History might be called, as one of its characters, P. T. Barnum, in a letter to Mark Twain, called his own most famous production, “a colossal traveling exhibition never before equaled.” The novel's multimedia form (well over a hundred pages are screenplay) gives easy passage from coast to coast and across the ocean. Well, not quite easy; multimedia productions on the printed page make their demands. But trust Howard; she always finds her way back to Bridgeport, Connecticut.
As with earlier works, Howard tells her story in separately complete segments. In the first of eight “Museum Pieces,” whose title suggests the Barnum Museum in Bridgeport, she describes an imaginary wall map: “The county entire, Fairfield County is shown as fabulously simple, the shallow blue waters of Long Island Sound, the pale green of its slight elevations in Redding and Trumbull, the heavy pink populace of the industrial centers—your city and others, Danbury, Stamford, Norwalk. Less than you...
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SOURCE: “Novel Strains for Effect,” in Christian Science Monitor, December 14, 1992, p. 12.
[In the following review, Rubin offers a negative assessment of Natural History, criticizing the novel's format and structure.]
Maureen Howard's much-heralded novel Natural History, is a penitential, quasi-Joycean chronicle/collage that purports to do for Bridgeport, Conn., what James Joyce did for Dublin. Winner of a National Book Critics Circle prize for her memoir Facts of Life, and the author of five previous novels, Howard is a sincere and serious writer. Her intentions are doubtless worthy, but this novel never gets off the ground.
The central characters are an American family of Irish descent, the Brays, whom we first encounter during the later years of World War II. Jovial Billy Bray, the father, is a crackerjack police detective. His wife Nell is a gentle, extremely overanxious woman who can scarcely stand hearing her husband mention, let alone divulge any details of, cases he is working on. Murder, rape, arson—even graft and petty corruption—distress her deeply.
The Brays have two children. James is a musically talented lad who loves practicing magic tricks. Catherine is a stolid, bright, hardworking, rather humorless girl. The glimpses of their childhood we are shown are singularly ungalvanizing: James going to his clarinet lesson,...
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SOURCE: A review of Natural History, in Partisan Review, Vol. LX, No. 1, 1993, pp. 68–70.
[In the following review, Bell argues that Natural History's “uncontainable ingenuity” overshadows the novel's plot.]
The hero of Maureen Howard's Natural History is Bridgeport, Connecticut, where she was born and bred in an Irish Catholic family. A once-thriving manufacturing center on Long Island Sound, Bridgeport, like many such industrial towns of New England, fell victim to blight and decay after the Second World War. In several of her novels and the memoir Facts of Life, Bridgeport has been Howard's Dublin, the native ground that has possessed her imagination with the ferocious tenacity of a demon—the demon of memory—that will never let her go. In this new, enormously ambitious and eccentric novel, Howard concentrates on yet another Irish Catholic family, the Brays, whom we first meet toward the end of the War.
Billy Bray, the father, is a swaggering county detective; his wife Nell, who “married down,” is chronically worried about her teenage children, James and Catherine, and tries to exorcise her amorphous anxieties in fanatical housekeeping. James is obsessed with magic tricks and movies; Catherine is an earnest Girl Scout, miserably unsure of herself and dreamily pious. Suddenly the family romance is thrust aside by a murder (again!) that...
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SOURCE: “On the Other Hand …,” in Commonweal, February 12, 1993, p. 23.
[In the following review, Malin offers a positive assessment of Natural History, complimenting the novel's complexity and depth.]
Natural History deserves more than a brief review. It moves on at least three levels: it is, first, a study of the Bray family—Billy and Nell, the parents, and James and Catherine their children; it is also a study of “history,” a meditation, if you will, on what the word means not only to the Bray children but to all who want to recapture the “past” and discover that it never existed as implacable fact; it is, finally about the “mix” of art and reality, of “word” and “world.” These three levels, in effect, do not move in any linear manner; thus any page of the novel combines the various levels and, indeed, makes them into a maze of meaning, an epistemological labyrinth.
If, for example, we simply read the story of Billy Bray, we discover that his life is dominated by one event—the investigation of the murder of a soldier by a woman who pleads self-defense. I underline investigation because we eventually learn that in the investigation, any exploration of motives is unclear. Bray, who works as a detective for the state government, offers one version of the murder. But this version is a perversion; it is his story; it does not account for the...
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SOURCE: “Assimilation Blues: Maureen Howard's Facts of Life,” in MELUS, Vol. 18, No. 1, Spring, 1993, pp. 95–102.
[In the following essay, O'Brien explores the themes of assimilation and ethnic identity in Facts of Life.]
Narratives of exile and immigration arguably bring into sharper focus than other autobiographical modes the concept identified by Philippe Lejuene as “the autobiographical pact.”1 One reason why this may be the case is that there is an implicit struggle in autobiography, an application to the self of the sense of confrontation and critique that is applied to the objective world in Realist fiction. The experience typified and challenged in both Realist fiction and autobiography can, very generally, be called change. And in the age of capitalism, which also happens to be the age when change has become the structural principle of both social reality and the models of identity to which that reality gives rise, no change is more comprehensive than that articulated by the immigrant experience. Its comprehensiveness may be appreciated not only with regard to the actual immigrant generation itself, but also in view of its lingering effects on subsequent generations.
Quite apart, therefore, from its numerous artistic excellences and from the fact that its combination of detail and insight make it a unique record of the Irish-American experience of...
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SOURCE: “Millennium Light,” in Los Angeles Times Book Review, January 25, 1998, p. 6.
[In the following review, Friedman offers a positive assessment of A Lover's Almanac.]
“Lightness is his affliction,” Louise Moffett says of her lover Artie in Maureen Howard's comic tour de force, A Lover's Almanac, a novel about love, art and life precariously poised at the edge of the third millennium. Patching into the narrative excerpts from works dating as far back as the Greek and Roman classics and as contemporary as the lyrics of a Joni Mitchell song, Howard extends the boundaries of her love story into a broader meditation on Western thought. The story begins on New Year's Eve 2000 with Artie and Louise frenetically celebrating at a party somewhere near Central Park in New York City. The evening's disaster and the central breach in the relationship between Louise and Artie occur when, having drunk too much champagne, he playfully spills his drink down the front of Louise's blue retro silk dress, an act that pushes her to the end of her patience with him: “… for can it be that one night can unravel their years, one rotten night of Artie's misdemeanors? The answer is yes. Her Artie will never give up on his lightness. And the years that stretch ahead offer a diminishing view in which he will never change.”
This “lightness” and the “hedging ironies,” reflected both...
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SOURCE: “Seasoning Love,” in Nation, January 26, 1998, pp. 29–32.
[In the following review, Simon offers a positive assessment of A Lover's Almanac, noting its stylistic similarities to Natural History.]
About your arcade. You do see the pathos and pretension of the great Parisian arcades popping up in Bridgeport—your little glassed-over alley!
—Maureen Howard, Natural History
Once celebrated as a hallmark of America's cheery future, its robust inner health, the suburb has fallen from grace. No longer do aluminum siding, pink shutters and identically plotted lawns signal comfort and ease. These are the trappings of the Doll House (as in “Welcome to …”), the setting for key parties and other signs of marital decadence and cultural malaise. The Bradys are not a happy memory of family blending, before race, gender and Reaganomics got in the way; they are a symbol of our collective delusion. What we thought was success was really melanoma—a sunspot that's rotten underneath.
But with crime on the wane and the squeegee people in jail, the city is picking up where the suburbs left off. Even television, arguably our most accommodating cultural medium, has ventured forth with gusto into the urban jungle. The Friends frolic in Central Park, Susan has suddenly become herself in San Francisco...
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SOURCE: “Stormy Weather,” in Washington Post Book World, February 8, 1998, p. 5.
[In the following review, Dooley offers a negative assessment of A Lover's Almanac, criticizing the novel's lack of focus and cohesion.]
For more than 600 years, almanacs have been counting us through the calendar, helping us to calculate the position of the sun, moon and planets, entertaining us with feeble jokes, providing us with reminders of famous birthdays, cautioning that on such and such a day people in such and such an area will rise to find their world buried under snow. Once the almanac may have filled a need, but now it is a magpie collection of bright and shiny lore, a compendium of disparate information where everything stands alone and, wherever you chance to poke in your thumb, you'll pull out a plum.
And that is what Maureen Howard offers us in her new novel, A Lover's Almanac, with its collection of quotes, birthdays, astrological plotting, and stray bits of information patching together a love story firmly anchored to the end of the 20th century. There are so many voices, so many shiny bits of inessential information, so many things going on that the book never gets a firm hold on itself, never totally draws the reader in. The characters can't overcome the idea behind the book, can't climb over all the extraneous information that surrounds them and present themselves as...
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SOURCE: “Far from Home,” in Commonweal, March 27, 1998, p. 24.
[In the following review, Schwartz offers a mixed assessment of A Lover's Almanac, arguing that the novel's minor characters are more compelling than the protagonist.]
In A Lover's Almanac, Maureen Howard moves far afield from the literary precincts of spirited Irish-Catholic women where she has made her mark. In this more youthful, futuristic venue, Howard's protagonists are a star-tossed couple, Louise (Lou, Lou-Lou) Moffett, an aspiring artist on the cusp of Downtown success, and her boyfriend Arthur (Artie) Freeman, a computer-graphics adept for a cyberspace ad agency. The opening scene is a fifties-style New Year's costume party, replete with tuna and taffeta, to greet the year 2000. Artie, who has sampled too many martinis, assaults two of the guests, including Louise's art dealer, and is unceremoniously hauled out of the apartment and hurled from Lou's life. The next two-thirds of the book is devoted to Artie's efforts to get himself back into Lou's good graces. The outcome is never in doubt. What we have here, as Howard readily acknowledges, is an extended lover's quarrel, hardly the stuff of millennial reckoning. So what is the author doing? Surely a novelist of Howard's heft (Grace Abounding, Expensive Habits, Natural History) has something more up her sleeve than providing love-tipped arrows...
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SOURCE: “On the Love Boat,” in New York Review of Books, July 16, 1998, pp. 31–35.
[In the following review, Wood explores the literary technique of utilizing correspondence to narrate a story, citing A Lover's Almanac as a prime example.]
Milan Kundera's new novel, Identity, written in French and marked at its end as “completed in France, Autumn 1996,” reads like a modest commentary on a famous page in Proust's Remembrance of Things Past. Charles Swann's love for Odette de Crécy, entering its unhappiest phase, is described as an illness, in which physical desire, and even Odette's person, play only a small part. Swann can scarcely recognize her in a photograph, can't connect her face with his pain—“as though suddenly we were to be shown a detached, externalized portrait of one of our own maladies, and we found it bore no resemblance to what we are suffering.” The switch from Swann to us is striking; our identification with his condition is swiftly taken for granted. Proust's narrator then, even more strikingly, relates love and death, not, he says, because of any of the “so vague” resemblances which are “always” discussed, but because both make us interrogate further, interroger plus avant, “the mystery of personality.” Who is it we love, and who are we, in love or out of it?
There are really only two...
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Coulter, Moureen. “Bridgeport Revisited.” Belles Lettres 9, No. 1 (Fall 1993): 15.
Coulter discusses the recurring characters in Howard's works and the cinematic prose style of Natural History.
Flower, Dean. “Politics and the Novel.” Hudson Review 46 (Summer 1993): 395–402.
Flower explores political issues in the writings of Maureen Howard, Julian Barnes, Imre Kertész, Ian McEwan, Rita Dove, and Wendell Berry.
Leonard, John. “Up from Bridgeport.” New York Times Book Review (1 July 2001): E10.
Leonard offers a positive assessment of Big As Life: Three Tales for Spring, calling it an “amazing novel.”
Additional coverage of Howard's life and career is contained in the following sources published by the Gale Group: Contemporary Authors, Vols. 53–56; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vols. 31 and 75; Contemporary Novelists; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 83; Literature Resource Center; and Major 20th-Century Writers, Editions 1 and 2.
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