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Mary and O'Neil Hardcover – February 6, 2001

4.6 out of 5 stars 73 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The title of Cronin's debut collection of eight interconnected stories, set between 1979 and the present, implies that the content will be devoted to the relationship between the eponymous duo. Instead, they don't appear in the same tale until halfway through, detailing their marriage in their early 30s after both become teachers. Before this, there's a lengthy opening story concerning the events leading up to the accidental death of O'Neil's parents, Arthur and Miriam; another story on how O'Neil and his older sister, Kay, cope with the aftermath; and a third about the abortion Mary has at the age of 22. After the wedding, the stories still don't always focus on the pair, with one devoted solely to Kay's own dysfunctional marriage. Cronin, a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, is an accomplished craftsman, and at times his prose is quite moving and beautiful, though the sadness he channels is too often uninflected by humor. Playing out variations on the theme of the inability of parents and children to truly know one another, Cronin is capable of creating fresh poignancy. Readers interested in going straight to the best of the collection should head for "Orphans" and "A Gathering of Shades," in which the author affectingly paints how the two siblings help each other through the pain of living and dying, showcasing the real love story here. Agent, Ellen Levine. (Feb. 13) Forecast: This is a promising debut collection, and national print advertising in the New Yorker and alternative weeklies should target the appropriate readership. Sponsorship announcements will also feature the title on NPR.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

It is 1979, and 19-year-old O'Neil Burke has it all. He's in love, successful in college, and warmed by the affection of his parents and older sister Kay. After a weekend visiting their son, the Burkes, protecting each other from dark, unshared secrets, drive off an icy embankment and die. O'Neil's mounting losses include his girl, his career ambitions, and any sense of direction. Eventually, he finds his way back into a pleasant life, teaching high school English in Philadelphia and marrying Mary. More sorrow solidifies the bond between O'Neil and his sister when she fights a losing battle with cancer in her late thirties. Cronin's key mistake in this fine series of linked short stories about a family weathering crushing blows is indicated by his misleading title. Mary, who makes her first appearance nearly 100 pages into the book, is not nearly the presence that O'Neil, his parents, and his sister are. This is too bad, as the scenes between Mary and O'Neil are rich with affectionate humor, leaving the reader wanting more. Nevertheless, this is a worthy first effort by a novelist worth watching.
-DBeth E. Andersen, Ann Arbor Dist. Lib., MI
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: The Dial Press; First Edition edition (February 6, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385333587
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385333580
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.9 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (73 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #665,105 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This is the Cronin's debut, but it feels like a classic from the first page. Readers meet the title couple, Mary and O'Neil, in a series of stories which chronicle episodes from their lives, and can be read as a novel or as a collection of short pieces. The real satisfaction is Cronin's exquisite prose: his stories find their power in the subtle revelations of the characters' emotional lives. There are passages on almost every page that had me in awe of this man's talent, and I was most pleasantly surprised by the overwhelming sense of discovery I felt with this book--remember the first time you found an author who immediately became a favorite, whose writing you savored, and whom you couldn't wait to share with all your friends? As I read Mary and O'Neil, I was reminded of the feeling I had when I first found the works of J.D. Salinger, and later, Anne Tyler and John Updike...think back to discovering your own favorites and that excitement that you felt as you turned every page, knowing that you'd found something important, not just to you, but in the larger scheme of things. If Mary and O'Neil is any indication, Justin Cronin is destined for greatness. This first collection/novel is among the most promising debuts I've seen in years.
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Format: Hardcover
Ordinarily, I hate books of the "Novel in Stories" variety. I usually find them to be a confused jumble of pieces without any elastic to hold them together. I admit that I had low expectations of this work when I started it due to this prejudice. What a pleasant surprise!
Other reviewers have mentioned the beauty of the prose, so I will skip a description of it. Suffice to say that it is not only beautiful, but clever. If you happen to be a writer, you will find yourself WISHING that you could condense the essence of being into phrases like Cronin's. The weaving of the stories is extraordinary: how many times have you read about a character and wondered what his/her parents were like, or what his wife was like before she entered the plot at their first meeting? Here you get that depth of information, not only through the strength of the writing but also through the structure and selection of the moments Cronin chooses to reveal. I'm not sure when the last time a book moved me to tears was, but this was one that did.
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Format: Hardcover
Mary and O'Neil was certainly a surprise for me. I thought it would be a nice collection of connected short stories, but it is so much more than that. The stories work more like a novel than a collection and Cronin has done marvelous things with these stories. They follow two people, O'Neil, who is nineteen when we first meet him, and Mary, the woman he eventually marries. Each story us about an emotionally pivotal experience that has ramifications for the rest of their lives, ramifications which surface in each of the following stories. The stories are wonderfully written and affecting. Each story could have been the springboard for a fully developed novel. Cronin fits so much in these stories in a terrifically effortless and smooth manner. I highly recommend this one.
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Format: Hardcover
Cronin, on the LaSalle faculty page, describes himself as an "unrepentant Realist with a sentimental streak." I think Cronin knows himself very well, because that's Mary and O'Neil in a nutshell, and the book's high points and low points corollate highly with these two rather divergent characteristics.

There was much I admired and loved about this book. Cronin's language is exquisite, his descriptive powers incredible, and the strongest part of this book may be his intelligent choice of scenes. For example, there's the story about Mary's pregnancy, and it ends right before she tells her husband, and it couldn't have been more perfect. This was the exact place where the scene (and the story) should have ended, and Cronin nailed it. He does this again and again, and for this alone this book is worth a second reading.

What weakens M&O is Cronin's sentimental streak. When I read the end of "Orphans," the second story, I asked myself how I'd suddenly stepped into a Julia Roberts movie. This unfortunately happens on more than one occasion, but hey, I knew this going in, so you might brace yourself for some unmitigated sappiness if that isn't your cup of tea.

Although this book is labeled a "Novel in Stories," it reads more like a novel than an "arc" of short stories, like Denis Johnson's "Jesus's Son" or Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried." The plotting and the relationship between stories is way tighter than those two works.

I enjoyed the first one the most, "The Last of the Leaves." It is perfection.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I bought this books months ago and it sat on a shelf for far too long. How could I have let a gem like this remain unread for such a long time?
The first story, "Last of the Leaves" grabbed my heart and did not let go. It was so exquisitely rendered -- powerful yet tender at the same time...a wonderful story of love.
The rest of the book follows Mary and O'Neil through the their separate and together lives and those of some family members. Each story/chapter both illuminates, and revolves around, a defining moment of their lives. Death, illness, birth are all explored and written of with such lovely prose, each word seemingly polished to perfection.
Without using a lot of description, Cronin somehow manages to thoroughly familiarize the reader with his characters and their lives.
A book to remember.
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