Maureen Howard Critical Essays


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Howard, Maureen 1930–

Howard, an American novelist and autobiographer, uses polished and precise language to write of ordinary domestic life. Her autobiography, Facts of Life, explores many of the same themes that her earlier Bridgeport Bus had explored fictively. (See also CLC, Vol. 5, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 53-56.)

David R. Slavitt

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The improbable heroine of [Bridgeport Bus] is a flat-chested, hawk-nosed, five-foot-eleven-inch, 35-year-old virgin from Bridgeport, Conn. Not surprisingly, she departs both from Bridgeport and virginity, but she is less interesting rather than more for having done so….

Pregnancy and death are not so terrible as dullness—in novels, anyway—and Mary Ag gets dull. The careful, tight writing gets loose, diffuse, and self-indulgent. Mary Ag keeps a journal, writes a play, records the irrelevant story of a wayward, show-girl cousin, as if she were filibustering and reading cookbooks into The Congressional Record. It is almost enough to make one forget the initial pleasure of meeting a finely...

(The entire section is 138 words.)

Roger Sale

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Maureen Howard's Before My Time is not as good as it should be, and not as good as admirers of Bridgeport Bus had reason to hope, but it is in many places a very impressive work nonetheless. (p. 618)

When Howard is dealing with the Cogans of Bruckner Boulevard—mother Millie in a flashback as a stenographer, daughter, and lover, "failed" father Jack in a marvelous friendship with a retired Jewish millionaire, Siobhan and Cormac trying to settle in to an unoccupied highrise apartment—she is at her best, and that best is very good. But the major focus of the book is really on Millie's Boston cousin, Laura Quinn, discovering she is still before her time. Howard locates Laura's resentful...

(The entire section is 296 words.)

Alfred Kazin

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

My first impression of Facts of Life was of sheer novelistic skill, of so many stories, moods and time-shifts turning up in every chapter that it looked as if the author was stuck with a lot of effects that she couldn't unload in a novel. But it turned out to be a ruthlessly personal story told, like all good self-histories, to deliver the author from evil, to liberate her from some pressing burdens.

The fact that Maureen Howard doesn't seem much happier at the end of her brilliantly told story than she does at the beginning doesn't diminish her achievement. She is a dogged snipper of the human heart who, despite life with other breeds, retains a narrowly focused Catholic suspicion of...

(The entire section is 378 words.)

Katha Pollitt

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

I can understand why a friend of mine groaned when I told him that Maureen Howard's reminiscences [in Facts of Life] centered on her childhood in Bridgeport, Connecticut: Life in that grim and prosaic city is a pretty daunting subject. But as readers of her novels know, Howard cannot be grim or prosaic for two seconds. (p. 43)

The facts of life, as Howard sees them, are three—culture, money, and sex—and how her parents shaped her adult attitudes in these matters is the central concern of these witty and vivid memoirs. But others also had their say, and Facts of Life is packed with sharply drawn sketches….

If Facts of Life has a flaw it is that it is not a...

(The entire section is 272 words.)

Frances Taliaferro

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Maureen Howard's "autobiography" is the work of a fine novelist…. She disclaims the title "memoir," and certainly this book has nothing in common with those memoirs that are part name-dropping and part narcissism. Facts of Life is a writer's notebook, a rich source of portraits any one of which might turn into a novel. Maureen Howard observes that "hindsight is common and bland as boiled potatoes," and perhaps it is only the true novelists who can cut through the barrier of "memoir" as she does. (p. 92)

Frances Taliaferro, "Books in Brief: 'Facts of Life'," in Harper's (copyright © 1978 by Harper's Magazine; all rights reserved; reprinted from the...

(The entire section is 287 words.)