Mary Gordon Gordon, Mary (Vol. 128) - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Mary Gordon 1949-

American novelist, short story writer, essayist, and memoirist.

The following entry presents an overview of Gordon's career. For further information on her life and works, see CLC, Volumes 13 and 22.

Mary Gordon emerged as a highly respected contemporary novelist with the enormous critical and popular success of her debut novel, Final Payments (1978). Drawing heavily upon her own Catholic upbringing, Gordon examines the problematic and often contradictory claims of universal and particular love, Christian morality, domestic responsibility, sexual desire, and emotional fulfillment in the secular world. Distinguished for her well-crafted prose and engaging evocation of cloistered Catholic lives, Gordon focuses on the private struggles of modern women whose personal needs are sacrificed to the demands of selfless care-giving, marriage, motherhood, and religious conscience. While Final Paymentsand The Company of Women (1981) figure largely around Catholic themes, in subsequent novels such as Men and Angels (1985) and Spending (1998) Gordon expanded the settings and subjects of her novels to include female academics and artists who explore their conflicted feelings about romantic love and independence.

Biographical Information

Born in Long Island, New York, Gordon was an only child raised in a devout Catholic home by her mother, a legal secretary of Irish and Italian descent, and her eccentric father, a Jewish convert to Catholicism and avowed anti-Semite who wrote speeches for Joseph McCarthy and published a string of unsuccessful right-wing Catholic magazines. Gordon shared a strong emotional bond with her doting father, who taught her Greek, French, and philosophy before suffering a fatal heart attack when she was seven. Gordon attended a Catholic parochial school and graduated from Mary Louis Academy, an all-girl Catholic high school. As a child she wrote poetry and considered a monastic life, though eventually rejected the Church as a teenager; Gordon still considers herself a Catholic despite objections to papal strictures against birth control, abortion, and the ordination of women.

In 1967 Gordon received a scholarship to attended Barnard College of Columbia University in New York. While at Barnard, Gordon studied writing with novelist Elizabeth Hardwick, an important early mentor who encouraged her to switch from poetry to prose. After graduating from Barnard in 1971, Gordon attended Syracuse University, where she earned a master's degree in writing in 1973 and started an unfinished doctoral dissertation on Virginia Woolf; Gordon counts Woolf, Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, and Ford Madox Fordamong her most important literary influences. While at Syracuse, Gordon met her first husband, James Brain, an anthropologist. From 1974 to 1978 Gordon taught English at Dutchess Community College in Poughkeepsie, New York, where she began work on her first novel, Final Payments, which appeared in 1978. Gordon taught at Amherst College in 1979 and, during the same year, remarried to Arthur Cash, an English professor. During the 1980s, Gordon published several additional novels, The Company of Women, Men and Angels, and The Other Side (1989), and the short story collection Temporary Shelter (1987). She has taught English at Barnard College since 1988. Many of her critical essays and reviews are contained in Good Boys and Dead Girls and Other Essays (1992). Gordon has since published novellas in The Rest of Life (1993), the memoir The Shadow Man(1996), and a fifth novel, Spending.

Major Works

Final Payments introduces many of the recurring motifs and preoccupations in Gordon's fiction: the struggle to reconcile conflicting aspects of charitable and romantic love, emotional dependency, spiritual and family debts, and individual conscience and religious morality; rebellion against patriarchal authority; and the perverse allure of self-abnegation for the benefit of others, particularly among women. Set in working-class Queens, Final Payments is narrated by Isabel Moore, a thirty-year-old Irish Catholic woman who has devoted eleven years of her life to the constant care of her invalid father, a conservative Catholic and former professor of medieval literature; his debilitating paralysis stems from a stroke suffered after discovering Isabel in bed with one of his students. Upon her father's death—the novel opens at his funeral—Isabel is freed of her responsibilities and thrust into the world to establish an independent life. She finds an outlet for her long repressed sexual desire in two affairs—both with married men—which result in humiliation and self-loathing. To atone for her deep-seated guilt, Isabel resolves to care for her father's former housekeeper, Margaret Casey, an unlovable wretch whom she despises though views as a means to salvation. However, after enduring a period of penitent care-taking, Isabel abandons Margaret for a new life, leaving her a large sum of money from the sale of her father's home as a “final payment.”

The Company of Women involves a group of five middle-aged, sexually dormant women who share a profound emotional attachment to Father Cyprian, a right-wing Catholic priest who has renounced his clerical order in protest to liberal church concessions. Much of the novel figures around Felicitas Taylor, the daughter of one of the widowed women, whom Cyprian cultivates as his spiritual disciple. Felicitas eventually rebels against Cyprian and enrolls at Columbia University, where she encounters the student radicalism of the late 1960s and enters into a manipulative sexual relationship with her professor, a self-styled revolutionary by whom she becomes pregnant. Returning to the unconditional love of the women and Cyprian, Felicitas and the others relocate to Cyprian's Upstate New York home, where Felicitas raises her daughter and resigns herself to a simple life of ordinary pleasures. Men and Angels focuses on Anne Foster, an art historian and working mother whose husband, a professor, is on sabbatical in France. Uncomfortable with her new independence, Anne hires Laura Post, an emotionally scarred religious zealot, to help care for her children while she works on a catalogue of artwork by Caroline Watson, an obscure early twentieth-century painter. Anne's research reveals that Watson was a callous mother who neglected her son, mirrored by Laura's own unhappy childhood and consequent insecurities. Laura's fanaticism, which ultimately leads her to suicide, wreaks havoc in the Foster home and threatens Anne's domestic security. Though Catholicism is absent from this novel, the themes of selfless love and renunciation come to the fore as Anne questions her inability to care for the unlovable Laura, as well as the responsibilities of motherhood and married life.

In The Other Side Gordon returned to the New York Irish Catholic milieu of her first novel. Set over a period of twenty-four hours, this generational saga revolves around the homecoming of Vincent MacNamara, an elderly man who returns to his Queens home and dying wife, Ellen, after several months in the hospital with a broken hip. Drawing upon the fragmentary, transcontinental experiences of a large cast of characters, Gordon reconstructs the complex web of infidelity, parental neglect, alcoholism, divorce, and sibling rivalry that has shaped the immigrant MacNamara family since the early years of the twentieth century. Spending features Monica Szabo, a witty, middle-aged artist, mother, and divorcee who enters into an ideal romantic arrangement with “B,” a wealthy Wall Street trader and admiring collector of her paintings who offers unlimited emotional and financial support to facilitate her art. With “B” as her devoted lover, muse, and model, Monica produces “Spent Men,” an acclaimed series of paintings that depicts Christ in a state of post-orgasmic exhaustion after his crucifixion. In addition to problems associated with her new celebrity, fortune, and controversial art, Monica reflects on the artistic process and the exigencies of modern life.

The Rest of Life contains three novellas, each of which features women who obsess over love, death, and isolation. The first, “Immaculate Man,” involves a middle-aged female narrator who runs a shelter for battered women. She is entangled in an intense affair with Clement, an unchaste priest who she fears will leave her for a needier woman. In “Living at Home,” the female narrator is a psychiatrist who works with autistic children. She lives in constant fear of losing her beloved third husband Lauro, an Italian photojournalist who frequently travels to dangerous foreign locales to cover war and revolution. The third novella, “The Rest of Life,” involves Paolo, a septuagenarian who returns to her native Italy where, as a teenager, she failed to fulfill her half of a suicide pact with her boyfriend, Leo, and was ostracized by the community for his death. Though able to forgive herself and others, she laments her unrealized passion and Leo's untimely death.

Gordon's collection of short fiction, Temporary Shelter, contains twenty stories that previously appeared in publications such as Granta, Antaeus, Redbook, and Mademoiselle. As in her novels, these stories involve female protagonists—both young and adult—who relate the fragile security of loving relationships, particularly those between parents and children, spouses, and lovers. Good Boys and Dead Girls consists of book reviews, essays on literature and contemporary issues, and Gordon's personal reflections on diverse subjects such as abortion, Andy Warhol, the Gospel of Saint Mark, and writing. In The Shadow Man Gordon retraces her effort to come to terms with the powerful memory of her long deceased father. Through painstaking research into the factual content of his biography, Gordon discovers that her father has lied about much; she learns, among other things, that his real name was Israel not David, he was born in Lithuania not Ohio, he never attend Harvard, or any college, as he claimed, and he edited a pornographic magazine during the 1920s. After scrutinizing his life and legacy, Gordon finally lays him to rest in a symbolic reburial that signifies closure.

Critical Reception

Gordon is highly regarded for her penetrating studies of self-denial, Catholic consciousness, and guilt-stricken women who are torn between external obligations and private desires. Final Payments was hailed as an impressive first novel and enthusiastically praised for its remarkable maturity, psychological depth, and unusual discussion of self-sacrifice and filial piety—concerns that seemed to run counter to the 1970s “me generation.” As Pearl K. Bell notes, Final Payments “was acclaimed not only for the dazzling intensity of her prose, but for the indisputable authority of her portrayal of the Irish-Catholic working class in Queens.” The Company of Women, which received mixed assessment, is considered by many an elaboration of the themes and personalities in Final Payments. Gordon garnered favorable reviews for Men and Angels, The Other Side, and the novellas of The Rest of Life. Along with Final Payments, Men and Angels and The Other Side are regarded as Gordon's most ambitious and accomplished works to date. Gordon is often compared to Victorian novelists Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë, as well as Virginia Woolf for her subtle perception of female emotions, and to Flannery O'Connor for her interest in extreme religiosity. Best known as a novelist, Gordon has also received positive reviews for her short stories, essays, and memoir The Shadow Man. Though critics have cited flaws in Gordon's reliance on stereotyped characters, tenuous narrative structures, and faulty plots, she is consistently praised for her finely tuned prose, vivid descriptions, and keen insights regarding the complexities of reciprocal love.

Principal Works

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Final Payments (novel) 1978

The Company of Women (novel) 1981

Men and Angels (novel) 1985

Temporary Shelter (short stories) 1987

The Other Side (novel) 1989

Good Boys and Dead Girls and Other Essays (essays) 1992

The Rest of Life: Three Novellas (novellas) 1993

The Shadow Man (memoir) 1996

Spending (novel) 1998

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Ann Hulbert (review date 28 February 1981)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Catholic Devotions,” in The New Republic, February 28, 1981, pp. 33-4.

[In the following review, Hulbert offers tempered evaluation of The Company of Women.]

Like being singled out as a child to be the object of others' great love and hope, writing an acclaimed first novel can be a mixed blessing. Great expectations loom forever after. To judge from the importance of special daughters in Mary Gordon's fiction, she seems to have known the first fate, and has no doubt learned the second during the three years since her excellent first novel, Final Payments, was published. A second novel faces the challenge of showing new promise without betraying any...

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Robert Towers (review date 19 March 1981)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Reconciliations,” in New York Review of Books, March 19, 1981, pp. 7-8.

[In the following review, Towers offers tempered assessment of The Company of Women, which he describes as “a work at once excellent and flawed.”]

Since the rise and predominance of the art novel, the documentary aspect of fiction—regarded in the nineteenth century as a major strength of the genre—has figured little in critical discourse except among Marxists. Yet, stubbornly, the appeal of the documentary persists—and not only among unsophisticated readers. It is an impurity that cannot be strained out by the most finely textured filter of linguistically based...

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Sally Fitzgerald (review date 19 June 1981)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Harsh Love and Human Happiness,” in Commonweal, June 19, 1981, pp. 375-7.

[In the following review, Fitzgerald offers praise for The Company of Women.]

St. Cyprian was a third-century bishop of Carthage, and an outspoken opponent of Pope Stephen's liberality toward lapsed members of the young church. He was martyred, and personally so revered that he was canonized, and his name has for centuries appeared among those of the early fathers in the Canon of the Mass. Some of his overly rigid views and writings were, however, rejected and officially Indexed as teaching error.

Whether or not by design, a modern Cyprian, who plays a central role...

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Michiko Kakutani (review date 20 March 1985)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Books of the Times,” in The New York Times, March 20, 1985, p. C21.

[In the following review, Kakutani offers positive evaluation of Men and Angels.]

For Mary Gordon's heroines, the choice between perfection of the life or of the work has always held center stage. Torn between the hope of “ordinary human happiness” and the pure, crystalline demands of an absolute vocation, between a need to fulfill personal imperatives and a need to submerge themselves in some kind of “clear, consuming work,” they've frequently ended up in an emotional and spiritual limbo. Both Isabel in Final Payments and Felicitas in The Company of Women were raised...

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Rosellen Brown (review date 29 April 1985)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Wages of Love,” in The New Republic, April 29, 1985, pp. 34-6.

[In the following review, Brown offers favorable assessment of Men and Angels.]

In one of the Irish writer Mary Lavin's stories, a woman stands beside her dying husband's bed and hears bird-song for the first time in years, “so loud \had been] the noise of their love in her ears.” This moment has always seemed the quintessential expression of the triumph and danger of a fulfilling love, conjugal or parental: even the healthiest of loves can be consuming, limiting, threatening to the world and to the self, which is implacably single. And yet—the question hangs beside its...

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Carol Iannone (essay date June 1985)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Secret of Mary Gordon's Success,” in Commentary, Vol. 79, No. 6, June, 1985, pp. 62-6.

[In the following essay, Iannone discusses the interplay of religious and feminist themes in Gordon's fiction. “Miss Gordon's novels,” concludes Iannone, “are at once the symptom and the artistic exemplification of the empty self-centeredness which happens to have become her subject.”]

Mary Gordon's first novel, Final Payments (1978), about the embattled coming of age of an Irish Catholic woman, was both a best-seller and the object of an astonishingly enthusiastic critical response, in which Miss Gordon was compared to Jane Austen and her novel...

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Sarah Gilead (essay date Summer 1986)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Mary Gordon's Final Payments and the Nineteenth-Century English Novel,” in Critique: Studies in Modern Fiction, Vol. XXVII, No. 4, Summer, 1986, pp. 213-27.

[In the following essay, Gilead compares the theme and structure of Final Payments to the works of Victorian novelists such as Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, and George Eliot. According to Gilead, Gordon reinterprets the moral themes of canonical nineteenth-century women's fiction through the lens of contemporary feminism.]

Mary Gordon's Final Payments may be read as a study of the problem of female identity in a culture characterized by changing, often conflicting moral ideals...

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Rachel Billington (review date 19 April 1987)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Women at Bay,” in New York Times Book Review, April 19, 1987, p. 8.

[In the following review, Billington offers negative assessment of Temporary Shelter.]

The keening of a frightened and suffering woman is never far from the surface of Mary Gordon's writing. These 20 stories—some long, others only a few pages, some about the Irish immigrant poor, others about the Long Island rich, some imbued with the spirit of the countryside, others set in cosmopolitan London or New York—all carry with them the same atmosphere of fatalistic depression, of lives lived with at best lack of hope and at worst something dangerously threatening.


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Eleanor B. Wymward (essay date Summer-Fall 1987)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Mary Gordon: Her Religious Sensibility,” in Cross Currents, Vol. XXXVII, Nos. 2-3, Summer-Fall, 1987, pp. 147-58.

[In the following essay, Wymward examines Gordon's religious concerns in her novels and short stories. According to Wymward, “Gordon's fiction is centered not on a narrowly sectarian creed or tradition, but on the essentials of Christian theology: sin, grace, incarnation, and redemption.”]

Mary Gordon's comments on the liaison between her religious beliefs and creativity have never equalled the boldness of Flannery O'Connor's revelation:

I see from the standpoint of Christian orthodoxy. This means for me...

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Rosemary Booth (essay date 12 August 1988)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “A Concentration of Purpose: The Artistic Journey of Mary Gordon,” in Commonweal, August 12, 1988, pp. 426-30.

[In the following essay, Booth discusses Gordon's artistic development and the major themes in her novels. According to Booth, “The ‘motion’ in Mary Gordon's fiction, her novels in particular, has gone from a focus on defining a spiritually adult self, to defining a female self, to defining a parenting, creating self.”]

I guess as I began writing more and more and I began confronting in my writing a lot of the issues which really stemmed from my childhood, I began to see that I had a kind of religious hunger and...

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John W. Mahon (essay date 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Mary Gordon: The Struggle with Love,” in American Women Writing Fiction: Memory, Identity, Family, Space, edited by Mickey Pearlman, University Press of Kentucky, 1989, pp. 47-60.

[In the following essay, Mahon examines the depiction of love, family, and personal attachments in Gordon's novels. “Gordon seeks in all her work,” writes Mahon, “to explore how people love, or fail to love, each other in a world where belief in God is either a memory or an inconceivability.”]

Mary Gordon's third novel, Men and Angels (1985), introduces, for the first time in her fiction, a family in the ordinary sense of the word. Also for the first time, she...

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Madison Smartt Bell (review date 15 October 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Terrible, the Way It Was in Families,” in New York Times Book Review, October 15, 1989, p. 9.

[In the following review, Bell offers positive assessment of The Other Side.]

Mary Gordon's earlier work has demonstrated her expertise in portraying the politics of family life, with its manifold misunderstandings and its complex struggles for power and love. In her fourth novel, she applies this ability to a much larger and more intricate situation than ever before, attempting to account for five generations of the MacNamara family within the space of 24 hours. On the day in question, the elderly Vincent MacNamara is expected to return from a sanitarium, where...

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Pearl K. Bell (review date 18 December 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Last Exit to Queens,” in The New Republic, December 18, 1989, pp. 39-41.

[In the following essay, Bell offers an overview of Gordon's literary career and tempered evaluation of The Other Side.]

Young writers do not as a rule take commanding possession of a literary world, religious or social, with a first novel. Their fictional property rights, so to speak, need to be confirmed in a continuing body of work. But when Mary Gordon published her first novel, Final Payments, at the age of 29, it was acclaimed not only for the dazzling intensity of her prose, but for the indisputable authority of her portrayal of the Irish-Catholic working class in...

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John B. Breslin (review date 9 February 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Blight in Their Baggage,” in Commonweal, February 9, 1990, pp. 87-8.

[In the following review, Breslin offers tempered evaluation of The Other Side.]

Mary Gordon's latest novel is also her most ambitious both in length and, more importantly, in scope. That's the good news about the novel, and it is indeed good. The bad news is that the execution isn't quite as good as the idea.

The Other Side covers one day in the life of the McNamara family, four generations of New York Irish-Americans who have most of the vices and some of the virtues of their kind. But that day extends backward over eight decades, and the novel's focus moves...

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John M. Neary (essay date Spring 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Mary Gordon's Final Payments: A Romance of the One True Language,” in Essays in Literature, Vol. 17, No. 1, Spring, 1990, pp. 94-110.

[In the following essay, Neary examines the problem of linguistic authority, religious truth, and metaphysical uncertainty in Final Payments. According to Neary, Gordon reacts to “the loss of certainty” and its attendant disillusionment through humor and shifted focus on the aesthetic qualities of language.]

“I was looking for miracle, mystery, and authority,” Mary Gordon says in a 1978 issue of Harper's, consciously echoing Dostoevsky's Grand Inquisitor; “I was interested in style, in...

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Wendy Martin (review date 28 April 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Passions and Provocations,” in New York Times Book Review, April 28, 1991, p. 9.

[In the following review, Martin offers favorable assessment of Good Boys and Dead Girls.]

Novelists who write essays on politics, education, religion, art and literature participate in a venerable tradition. In the 19th century, George Eliot, William Thackeray, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry James, Mark Twain and others demonstrated their prowess as critics; in the 20th, Virginia Woolf, Mary McCarthy, John Updike, Joyce Carol Oates, V. S. Naipaul, Salman Rushdie, Margaret Drabble and Margaret Atwood, among others, have also made it clear that creative and critical skills can...

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Alison Lurie (review date 8 August 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Love Has Its Consequences,” in New York Times Book Review, August 8, 1993, pp. 1, 25.

[In the following review, Lurie offers praise for The Rest of Life.]

We read fiction, in part, to widen our social circle: to make new friends effortlessly, receive their confidences and enter their worlds. Mary Gordon's remarkable new book, The Rest of Life, fulfills this purpose wonderfully. Her heroines are all wholly alive and complex contemporary women, and they conceal nothing from us, not even their most intimate secrets.

Though they are full of dramatic incident, the three novellas that make up The Rest of Life do not have plots in...

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Lisa Zeidner (review date 8 August 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Sacred and Profane,” in Washington Post Book World, August 8, 1993, p. 5.

[In the following review, Zeidner offers positive assessment of The Rest of Life.]

Since her first novel, the bestseller Final Payments, Mary Gordon's fiction has explored the tug-of-war between duty and desire. Her heroines are often good Catholic girls who sacrifice so much of their own happiness that their very identities become threatened. Gordon's mission is to shake up their complacency—to save them from cloistered virtue.

Her seventh book, The Rest of Life, comprises of three gentle, quiet novellas about Gordon's own brand of unassuming...

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John B. Breslin (review date 25 February 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Between a Romp and Redemption,” in Commonweal, February 25, 1994, pp. 24-5.

[In the following review, Breslin offers positive assessment of The Rest of Life.]

Three stories; three women; four men (one a father) to whom the women are bound by ties of obsession and memory; several children to whom the women are devoted, all but one boys, none fathered by their lovers. Such is the cast of characters in these novellas, Mary Gordon's first fiction since the generational saga of The Other Side, but what really matters here are the voices, in turn confessional, suspicious, celebratory, always questioning but finally, in the concluding story, grateful....

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John Leonard (review date 6 May 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “She Lost Her Father,” in The Nation, May 6, 1996, pp. 24-6, 28.

[In the following review, Leonard offers favorable evaluation of The Shadow Man.]

“I love you more than God,” David Gordon told his daughter, Mary, before dying of a heart attack when she was 7. His only child, than whom there's no brainier writer or reader, no more resourceful archeologist of hidden meanings, has worried this bone, like a hound of heaven, ever since: “I didn't know, and still don't, if he meant he loved me more than he loved God or more than God loved me. It almost doesn't matter. It was a serious thing to say and it scared me.”

It also sounds like a...

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Sara Maitland (review date 17 May 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Final Payment,” in Commonweal, May 17, 1996, pp. 17-8.

[In the following review, Maitland offers negative assessment of The Shadow Man.]

Mary Gordon has a well established record as a novelist deeply shaped by, although rather at odds with, her Roman Catholicism. I admire her work, and particularly Final Payments. So I came to this autobiographical memoir with some enthusiasm, though also with some doubts, as I have difficulties with books in the confessional genre by novelists. However, even uneasy amalgams can be interesting, and I was interested.

I was also feeling indirectly involved. Gordon writes of the death of her father...

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William H. Pritchard (review date 26 May 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Cave of Memory,” in New York Times Book Review, May 26, 1996, p. 5.

[In the following review, Pritchard offers tempered evaluation of The Shadow Man.]

Mary Gordon's first novel, Final Payments, begins with a funeral, that of the heroine's father, whom she has cared for through 11 years and a series of strokes. The daughter's subsequent rediscovery of life. which this first-person narrative engagingly traces, concludes with a sentence predictive of Ms. Gordon's subsequent career as a writer: “There was a great deal I wanted to say.”

Now, after three further novels, a collection of stories, three novellas and a book of...

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Christopher Lehmann-Haupt (review date 5 March 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “A Male Muse Lacking Only a Name,” in The New York Times, March 5, 1998, p. E12.

[In the following review, Lehmann-Haupt offers unfavorable assessment of Spending.]

“Where are the male Muses?” asks Monica Szabo at the end of the slide show of her paintings that begins Mary Gordon's new novel, Spending: A Utopian Divertimento.

“Right here,” answers the man in the audience whom Monica chooses to call simply B in her account of the unusual love affair they are about to begin.

B is a feminist's fantasy come to life. A highly successful trader of commodities futures, he has bought four of Monica's paintings and...

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Hilary Mantel (review date 8 March 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “For Art's Sake,” in New York Times Book Review, March 8, 1998, p. 5.

[In the following review, Mantel offers tempered assessment of Spending.]

Sex, art, money: that's what it's all about. So we learn in the neatly chiseled opening sentences of Mary Gordon's new novel. Add in death and we would have a ferocious quaternity to frame the action. But in Monica Szabo's world, death is the gracious suspension of breath that she finds in the works of the great masters of religious art. It is a death that is curiously lifelike, but she does not notice this until one or two life crises have come and gone.

Monica is a painter: middle-aged, well...

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Robert H. Bell (review date 10 April 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “All Expenses Paid,” in Commonweal, April 10, 1998, pp. 28-9.

[In the following review, Bell offers positive evaluation of Spending.]

Mary Gordon's new novel is immensely engaging fun, a delightful romp by an author distinguished for narratives of rigorous self-denial, harrowing disillusionment, and painful self-discovery. If anyone deserves a holiday from conscience and an interlude with the pleasure principle, it's the writer of Final Payments, The Company of Women, and the recent memoir, The Shadow Man. As its subtitle suggests, Spending locates us in the land of make-believe, what if, and once-upon-a-time.


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E. M. Broner (review date July 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Pigment of the Imagination,” in The Women's Review of Books, Vol. XV, Nos. 10-11, July, 1998, pp. 25-6.

[In the following review, Broner offers favorable assessment of Spending.]

Mary Gordon has always taken on strong enemies: the church, memory, family. She is not averse to taking on the big bad boys either. Reviewing Norman Mailer's The Gospel According to the Sonlast year in The Nation, she wondered how he “could have the audacity to do something there was no need to do … that no one particularly wanted, that he knew nothing about and that he wasn't well suited for.” Knocking out that kind of pugilistic male is no sweat for her....

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Further Reading

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)


Akins, Ellen. “Worlds of Possibility.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (29 August 1993): 2, 9.

A positive review of The Rest of Life.

Becker, Alida. “The Arts of Love.” Washington Post Book World (31 March 1985): 6.

A positive review of Men and Angels.

Cooper-Clark, Diana. “An Interview with Mary Gordon.” Commonweal (9 May 1980): 270-3.

Gordon discusses her literary influences, religious views, and the critical reception of Final Payments.

Earnshaw, Doris. Review of Good Boys and Dead Girls and Other Essays, by Mary...

(The entire section is 564 words.)