Cloud Chamber Critical Essays

Michael Dorris

Cloud Chamber

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In Michael Dorris’ CLOUD CHAMBER, Rose Mannion McGarry flees from Ireland ahead of British authorities who would prosecute her for her role in the uncovering of a British spy among Irish patriots. She takes with her the mild Martin McGarry, whom she married even though she is carrying the unborn child of the spy. The couple settles in a town near Lexington, Kentucky, where she gives birth to two sons.

Thereafter, the story of the family covers five generations in which the women show far more strength than the men. Rose, her daughter-in-law Bridie O’Gara McGarry, and Bridie’s daughters Edna and Marcella, survive the weaknesses and early deaths of Rose’s sons Andrew, a priest, and Robert, a consumptive. The women fight among themselves, but both Edna and Marcella conquer the disease which killed their father. Edna, finally the strongest of them all, rejects a belief that she has a vocation to be a nun to stay with the family. Marcella, with the connivance of her sister, defies segregation laws and convention and elopes with a young African American man and has a son, Elgin. He marries a Native American woman and becomes the father of Rayona, whose ceremonial adoption of the name of Rose as her Indian name signals a reconciliation among the women in her ancestry.

Rayona and her mother are carryovers from Dorris’ earlier successful novel, A YELLOW RAFT IN BLUE WATER (1987), which dealt with the Native American side of Rayona’s heritage.The brilliantly written CLOUD CHAMBER rounds out and completes the story with finely drawn portrayals of a fascinating line of resilient women.

Sources for Further Study

Booklist. XCIII, October 15, 1996, p. 379.

Chicago Tribune. March 2, 1997, XIV, p. 6.

Kirkus Reviews. November 11, 1996, p. 1349.

Library Journal. CXXI, November 15, 1996, p. 87.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. February 16, 1997, p. 13.

The New York Times Book Review. CII, February 9, 1997, p. 11.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLIII, November 11, 1996, p. 55.

Time. CXLIX, February 17, 1997, p. 88.

The Times Literary Supplement. May 16, 1997, p. 22.

U.S. Catholic. May, 1997, p. 46.

The Washington Post Book World. XXVII, January 12, 1997, p. 1.