A woman cares for her dying mother and learns about long-buried family history in this absorbing drama. Mary McDougal is on the brink of making partner at her Manhattan accounting firm when she learns that her 77-year-old mother Maggie has been stricken with pancreatic cancer and has just a few months to live. Mary is grief-stricken, but she struggles to cope with Maggie's disease in the calmly therapeutic manner that the medical establishment prescribes for the end of life. She prevails upon the prickly Maggie to move into her apartment, where she buckles down to helping her strong-willed mother through pain, forgetfulness and a terrifying physical decline. There are clashes, misunderstandings and tears, but mother and daughter also grow closer through their shared ordeal as they take stock of their life together and Maggie starts to tell stories about Mary's father Jimmy, who never returned from World War II. (Meanwhile, unbeknownst to the two women, the Army has discovered a 60-year-old letter from Jimmy to Maggie and is trying, with all the ponderous determination of military bureaucracy, to deliver it to her.) Mulligan tells this tale with sensitivity and skill, and the domestic scenes with Mary and Maggie have a quiet, subtle realism that finely evokes the anguish and solace that families take from the experience of dying. Woven through their present-day trials as a counterpoint is the happy narrative of Maggie's wartime romance with Jimmy. To the author's credit, this subplot is a vivid recreation of a working-class Irish neighborhood in the Bronx, full of hardship but also hope, as Maggie and Jimmy make plans for the future. (In yet another register, Mulligan renders Jimmy's experience of the Battle of the Bulge with terrifying immediacy.) Writing with a wonderfully evocative prose style, Mulligan takes his characters through sorrow to a luminous redemption. A moving saga of love and remembrance -- Kirkus Discoveries
A truly moving story about the last letter a World War II soldier writes to his wife, which is inadvertently lost in the mail and discovered sixty years later. It is delivered to his widow as she lies dying of cancer. This story was especially nostalgic to me as someone who grew up during those war years, with a father in the army. I felt empathy, too, for the caretaker daughter, since I too cared for two loved ones who died in similar circumstances. The widowed Maggie raises her daughter by herself and never remarries. The daughter, Mary, becomes a successful business woman. When Maggie nears her last weeks of life, Mary takes a leave of absence and brings her mother to her own home with home hospice care so that her last days will have her surrounded by some of her own things and Mary can always be with her. With an intriguing cover, the book is well set-up and may very well be based on a true story. "...the author's efforts showed great imagination and a knack for following a story down through the years." I liked the story a lot. It took me back in time and brought me to tears at the end. --Reviewed by Lola R. Eagle, author and poet ,Reading New Mexico
Romantic Times Book Reviews
RT Rating: 4½ Stars
Category: MAINSTREAM FICTION
Published: March 2009
Type: Mainstream Fiction
Mulligan's stunning debut is impossible to put down. Using a series of flashbacks, it tells a beautiful love story and builds to a dramatic conclusion that touches the heart and soul.
Summary: When Mary's mother, Maggie, reveals that she has cancer and only a short time to live, Mary helps her prepare for her last days. During this time, she learns much about her father, who died before she was born.
Jimmy loved Maggie since first grade. It was natural for them to get married before he shipped out, and he prayed their wedding night would result in a baby. He gives his last letter for his beloved wife to his CO, but it doesn't surface again for 60 years. Will it reach Maggie in time? (BOOKSURGE, Mar., 380 pp., $16.99)