Review

Child of My Heart

by Alice McDermott



Young Theresa is the middle class Irish and strikingly beautiful
babysitter to the rich and famous of Long Island's East End. She
spends her fifteenth summer caring for "four dogs, three cats, the
Moran kids, Daisy, my eight-year-old- cousin, and Flora, the
toddler child of a local artist." Theresa still lives in the world
of children, weaving stories about lollipop trees and bedazzled
shoes and spending her days at the beach. However, by the end of
the summer, as illness, death and betrayal have obliquely asserted
themselves, Theresa has become an adult. It is from this vantage of
loss that our older narrator tells the dense story of one June to
August.

In one sense, little heartbreak happens. Early on, Theresa
discovers the ominous bruises on her young cousin Daisy but decides
not to search out their meaning. The neglected neighbor children,
the Morans, crash through the summer but without great catastrophe.
Even the privileged toddler, Flora, who has been essentially
abandoned by her cosmopolitan mother, is still at an age where she
can be easily pacified with a bottle of red juice. Tragedy and
adulthood itself are postponed to the unwritten pages of life after
the story's summer. However, in between, McDermott's lapidary prose
hovers the inexorableness of Daisy's cancer death, of the Morans
frustrated alcoholic future and of the lost and lonely adult Flora
inevitably will become.

"Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, creeps in this petty pace from
day to day." Theresa quotes from her school's production of Macbeth
throughout the novel and it is this ineluctable progression of time
that forms the book's core sad note. For the narrator, an older
Theresa looking back, childhood represents the finest point of
life. It is a time of unlikely hopes, a time before the distasteful
ambition, disappointed love and parental death of adulthood.

Alice McDermott's skill and restraint make CHILD OF MY HEART an
anxious, lovely book, rather than the mawkish or sentimental one
its story would have produced under the care of a less exquisite,
sincere and deliberate writer. Many readers will find the craft
itself, rather than the characters or the images, to be the most
memorable quality of this book. One reads with the rare confidence
that no scene has been carelessly included, that no sentence is
meaninglessly clever. Each paragraph further compels the reader
towards McDermott's elaborate argument and desired impact.

Reviewed by Rivka Galchen on January 21, 2011

Child of My Heart
by Alice McDermott

  • Publication Date: May 3, 2004
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
  • ISBN-10: 0747568227
  • ISBN-13: 9780747568223