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Mother of Sorrows Paperback – June 6, 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
Though it is a work of fiction, this slim volume of interconnected stories—a collection 18 years in the making by the codirector of the graduate program in creative writing at American University—reads like a memoir; an unnamed first-person narrator leads the reader through meticulously constructed scenes from his past, musing on self, sexual identity and family dynamics. The earliest chapters are set in a suburb of Washington, D.C., in the 1950s. The narrator is a child, growing up gay in classic fashion, obsessed with his glamorous mother and chastised by his father for things like "cutting out Winnie Winkle fashion dolls from the Sunday funnies or designing elaborate ball gowns for my favorite movie stars." When he dresses in his mother's clothes with another boy, he is caught; a fishing expedition with his father is a failure. The narrator's transition into adulthood is hardly any easier: his father dies young; his brother, Davis, also gay, is arrested several times and eventually dies of a drug overdose. And in the final section, the narrator is revealed to have AIDS, a disease that has claimed the lives of many friends. McCann's calm, elegiac prose is lovely in descriptive passages, but turns stiff and self-conscious in the frequent explanations the narrator offers for his behavior and that of others. Still, McCann's graceful writing carries these bittersweet snapshots of a life plagued by self-doubt and yearning. Agent, Gail Hochman. (Apr. 26)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
In prose as silky smooth as the clothes from his mother's closetthat the protagonist covertly dons, McCann relates an Eisenhower-era coming-of-agein a D.C. suburb of trimmed lawns and station wagons. Civil defense leaflets picture moms in backyard bomb shelters, leafing through magazines stacked on Danish modern coffee tables. In the midst of the cold war, shootouts on Gunsmoke provide drama in the living room. Already more than a little fixated on Our Mother of the Late Movies and Cigarettes, McCann's narrator, when 11, becomes yet more so when his father, an officer assigned to the Pentagon, suddenly falls ill and dies. Overlapping flash-forwards and --backs show older brother Davis OD'ing at 35 and then as a laughing 6-year-old; the glamorous mother dressing for an evening out, then an old woman needing to check her blood sugar. Throughout, McCann captures the nuances of bonding, down to the elaborate "twin speak" the brothers, differing only 15 months in age, devise and ultimately provides insight into a gay man's development at a bygone midcentury. Whitney Scott
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Other passages-- or stories-- ring true as well. The narrator, like so many of us in the 1980's and 1990's, has attended far too many "gay" funerals. It's almost as each of them must be the most unusual but oh, so relevant: "I know what ritual we'll get when we die, I thought each time I looked around the room at the bunch of us, [the narrator is attending a Positive Immunity workshop] the worried unwell. . . It won't be Kaddish. It won't be a funeral pyre on the Ganges. It'll be a boombox playing 'Je Ne Regrette Rien' in the rear of some Unitarian church hung with rainbow flags, like a gay Knights of Columbus hall." (Surely the funeral director who coined the word "cremains" for ashes will burn in hell for that little monstrosity.) There are literally dozens of paragraphs like these in these stories that go straight to the heart.
The most moving story-- without revealing what happens-- is "My Brother In The Basement." The narrator perceives that his brother Davis is on a collision course but cannot save him. This story, like many of the others, is to be read again and again. I'm reminded of what William Maxwell said about good literature, that we should enjoy it rather than analyze it.
Mr. McCann is is a very fine writer.
I find myself re-reading every word because the sentences are so perfectly crafted.
And thank you.