Justin's Cronin's first novel is broken up into a collection of eight short stories about the love between parents, siblings, children and lovers.
The book doesn't begin with the title characters, but rather with O'Neil's parents, Arthur and Miriam. The entirety of the book is balanced on the early revelation of the sweet complexity of their love in life and death. Their death in the first story sets the tone for the rest of the stories, providing their children with both answers and more questions about love and loss.
Mary and O'Neil's love affair is one brought about by just these questions. Mary lives with the ghost of a child she aborted early on in the book, while O'Neil's parents live in his memory with such vitality that he actually tries to call them after the birth of his first child--only to unexpectedly have a sad and beautiful conversation with a lonely stranger. Cronin creates Mary and O'Neil as the answers to each other's questions. Even the names that Cronin picks for them overflow with a sense of completeness: "Mary" and "O'Neil," sound more like a first name and surname than two separate characters.
The surname as name only makes more sense when one considers O'Neil's presence in the book as father figure. It is O'Neil who develops as a source of strength for several characters in the book, anointing him the ultimate patriarch of this novel. Cronin is poetic and beautifully subtle when he baptizes O'Neil's relationship with the woman who completes him and gives him a first name. The baptism is complete when Mary is ready to walk down the aisle and it begins to rain. O'Neil looks at her and all the guests at their wedding and, Cronin writes, "in his heart he marries each one of them."
Cronin's style is delicate and full of purpose, just like all of the relationships between his characters. It is hard not to relate to this book in some way if you've ever loved someone, harder still to not find Cronin's prose captivating in its wisdom and sincerity.
While waiting for the release of "The Passage" I decided to download Justin Cronin's "Mary and O'Neil" and "The Summer Guest." I have just finished the former and consider it one of the finest novels of loss and longing ever written.
Perhaps we are meant to read certain novels at certain periods in our lives and for anyone who has suffered the loss of a loved one this novel will resonate to the very core of their being. I read the book in two days and was transported to another world. I know Mr. Cronin's next two novels will not disappoint.
I finished this book while waiting for a doctor's appointment and people in the waiting room began to glance at me while tears were falling on my Kindle - No tear-soaked pages anymore, I'm afraid. Being a Houstonian with ties to Rice University but never having heard of Mr. Cronin before all the hype on "The Passage" began, I am so happy that he is receiving so many well-deserved accolades.
As a novelist myself, the discovery that Cronin's quietly brilliant novel in stories Mary & O'Neil came out in 2005 appalled me because I missed it then. Cronin reveals each dilemma with such subtlety and depth, each conversation, each interior thought, that you know these people are your own brother, mother, girlfriend or son.On a par with Marilynne Robinson and Wallace Stegner. Worth reading more than once.
It would be wonderful if more people discovered Justin Cronin
After reading "The Summer Guest" by Justin Cronin I couldn't wait to read something else by this wonderful author. That's when I bought "Mary and O'Neill". His first novel, "Mary and O'Neill" is just as enjoyable as "The Summer Guest", if in a somewhat different way. Don't let the fact that this is a novel in short store put you off. Even if you don't usually enjoy this type of book (and I don't) you will be glad you read "Mary and O'Neill". I cannot wait to see what else Mr. Cronin has in store for us. Believe the excellent reader reviews and buy this book!
Just finished reading Mary and O'Neil, and I know that it will stay with me for a long time. I laughed and cried, sighed and nodded my head as I read. This a very well crafted novel comprised of short stories, reminding me of the chapters of our lives. The relationships between parents and children, siblings, spouses and friends are realistically portrayed. Thanks to the author for a special experience. I look forward to reading his novel, The Summer Guest soon.
Mary and O?Neil frequently marveled at how, of all the lives they might have led, they had somehow found this one together. When they met at the Philadelphia high school where they?d come to teach, each had suffered a profound loss that had not healed. How likely was it that they could learn to trust, much less love, again?
Justin Cronin?s poignant debut traces the lives of Mary Olson and O?Neil Burke, two vulnerable young teachers who rediscover in each other a world alive with promise and hope. From the formative experiences of their early adulthood to marriage, parenthood, and beyond, this novel in stories illuminates the moments of grace that enable Mary and O?Neil to make peace with the deep emotional legacies that haunt them: the sudden, mysterious death of O?Neil?s parents, Mary?s long-ago decision to end a pregnancy, O?Neil?s sister?s battle with illness and a troubled marriage. Alive with magical nuance and unexpected encounters, Mary and O?Neil celebrates the uncommon in common lives, and the redemptive power of love.