MARY AND O'NEIL by Justin Cronin in an unabashedly moving and even-hearted book about two people and the relationships they share throughout their lives --- with siblings, friends, parents, children, each other. Justin Cronin writes this first novel as if he has lived in each of the character's skin for a long, long while. He even covers the specifics of labor and delivery as if he has been pregnant, which we know he has not (although he is a father, and that counts for something). As first novels go, this one is wonderful.
Like the work of Annie Dillard, Cronin finds a simple and easy-to-understand way of explaining emotional situations so that you can get inside them from the outset. He doesn't resort to literary trickery or emotional thievery --- his remarks and observations are clear, concise and honest. Whether O'Neil is trying to take hold of the immensity of feeling he discovers as his fiancee walks down their wedding aisle or is attempting to grasp the reality of the sentence "My wife and daughter are resting upstairs," this Everyman is an engaging and pure-hearted guy that we can all fall in love with (or recognize as having traits of the people we already love in real life). Mary's tenacity, her emotional equilibrium, and her matter-of-factness will remind readers of their best girl friends --- in short, these people are people we could know in the real world.
The stories somehow glide together, ending with unexpected twists, feeling like the handwritten captions on photographs pulled out of yellowing scrapbooks from our family files. The milestones of life are events that we can all share, but it takes a confident and exciting writer to put it all on paper. Justin Cronin is that kind of writer. MARY AND O'NEIL is a must read.
Reviewed by Jana Siciliano on January 22, 2011
Mary and O'Neil