Mary Morrissy Critical Essays


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Mary Morrissy Mother of Pearl and A Lazy Eye

Born in 1958, Morrissy is an Irish novelist, short story writer, and journalist.

The recipient of the 1995 Lannan Literary Award and the 1984 Hennessy Award for Short Stories, Morrissy is the author of works that are known for their evocative characterizations, Irish settings, and thematic focus on women, children, and despair. Her 1993 short story collection, A Lazy Eye, contains characters whose lives are defined by bleakness. In one story, a kleptomaniac steals and then destroys books; in another, an infant is abandoned in a store's Christmas display; in yet another tale, a young woman becomes infatuated with the man for whom she baby-sits and, when spurned, exacts her revenge on his newborn child. Set in Ireland in the mid-twentieth century, Morrissy's novel, Mother of Pearl (1995), centers on three women whose lives are likewise defined by their bleak and repressive surroundings: Irene, a former tuberculosis patient who becomes so obsessed with having a child that she ultimately kidnaps a newborn; Pearl (later renamed Mary), the baby whom Irene steals; and Rita, Pearl's biological mother. Much of the novel focuses on Pearl, who, as a child, is returned to Rita. After she is reunited with Pearl, Rita is unable to integrate "Jewel," a child she invented in her mind to replace her stolen child, with Pearl's physical presence; in Rita's mind, Pearl and Jewel are two distinct individuals, and Pearl subsequently grows up in the shadow of an older sister who never existed. As she grows, Pearl experiences confusing memories of life with another family. These events have disastrous effects on Pearl when she reaches adulthood and is expecting her own child. Morrissy has been praised for Mother of Pearl's prose style and its thematic and feminist focus on obsession and neurosis; abandonment and the search for belonging; death and poverty; and the relationship between the past, present, memories, and the imagination. In a review of Morrissy's writing, Michael Harris observed: "A constricted life, a warped attempt to break out of it, a residue of essential innocence, the inevitable punishment—this is Morrissy's territory indeed."