The masterly stories of Mary Gordon return us to the pleasure of this writer’s craft and to her monumental talent as an observer of character and of the ever-fading American Dream. These pieces encompass the pre- and postwar Irish American family life she circles in the early Temporary Shelter series, as well as a wealth of new fiction that brings her contemporary characters into middle age; it is their turn to face bodily decline, mortality, and the more complex anxieties of modern life. Gordon captures the sharp scent of feelings as they shift, the shape of particular lives in their hope and incomprehensibility.
In “The Neighborhood,” a seven-year-old who has lost her father finds birthday parties, with their noisy games and spun-sugar roses on fancy cakes, her greatest trial. “City Life” explores the dark side of Manhattan apartment living. “Intertextuality” proposes a dream meeting between Proust’s characters and the author’s aging grandmother. Throughout, Gordon’s surprising path to the center of a story is as much a part of the tale as the self-understanding her characters achieve in the process: “What were they all, any of them, feeling?” one narrator ventures. “This was the sort of question no one in my family would ask. Feelings were for others: the weak, the idle. We were people who got on with things.”
With their powerful insights into how we make do, both socially and privately, these stories are a treasure of American fiction. Each is a joy to read and a chance to savor Gordon’s clear vision: her ability to reveal at every turn what we need and what we wish for, and her willingness, always, to address what comes of such precious wishes.