The Very Rich Hours

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

When THE VERY RICH HOURS begins, the protagonist, Miss Anne Marie Kane, is on the way to her wedding shower. Chronologically, this is the end of the story, and so the narrative necessarily weaves backward through time, and mostly through memory, to relate the events and non-events of the previous four years. The reader meets Miss Kane’s family, friends, roommates, coworkers, and lovers in quick and jumbled succession, coming away with an impression of the very rich lives which she tentatively, and, almost always, inadequately touches during her academic and social education.

The famous medieval book, LES TRES RICHES HEURES DU DUC DE BERRY, provides the complex design for THE VERY RICH HOURS. Its eight chapters, coinciding with the divisions of the monastic day, begin with short prose poems. These intricate and frequently abstruse passages illuminate her narrative in much the same way as the gilded pictures of medieval scribes illuminate old manuscripts. Speaking as they do of linguistics, religion, memory, and even cleanliness, and always commenting, although sometimes obliquely, on the life and education of Miss Kane, these interludes provide much of the interest of the book.

Stylistically, McGarry ricochets from a nearly obsessional interest in gritty detail to an almost mystical and ethereal abstraction. It is as if Sinclair Lewis and Virginia Woolf had collaborated on a book. In THE VERY RICH HOURS there are breathtakingly long, Jamesian sentences; there are wonderfully terse phrases, such as “the singular thinness of Jesus’ body in a misery wafer"; and there are prose poems of considerable lyrical beauty. The reader will no doubt find that both the difficulty and the glory of THE VERY RICH HOURS will be found in its very rich use of language.