Looking for Mary Gabriel

by Carole Lawrence

Despite its slow beginning, the tension reached at the climax of
LOOKING FOR MARY GABRIEL remains powerful until the novel's end. So
unexpected is the violence and destruction reached that its
aftermath completely changes the view the readers will have of all
the characters. The pace of Carol Lawrence's debut novel is
wonderfully manipulative and effective; the reader will be
surprised and moved to emotion as well as to a moment of "eureka"
when the actions of the character, Bonita Gabriel, all begin to
make sense.

The sleepy southern suburban setting cannot mask the tensions
building in the Gabriel house. It is 1953 and it is becoming
obvious that the family's youngest daughter Mary is not quite
healthy. Knowing popular science blames mothers for the mental
illness of their children and knowing his wife's family history,
Dr. John Gabriel never has Mary examined for diagnoses or
treatment. Instead, much of the responsibility and burden for
caring for Mary falls to her older sister, Bonita. Bonita's natural
sense of wonder and creativity are eventually replaced by paranoia
and anger as she seeks to protect Mary from real and imagined
dangers. But before Bonita loses herself in her care of Mary, she
begins two critical friendships.

Laurel is the younger sister Bonita had always hoped for. But
Laurel's family, too, is struggling with a little understood mental
illness. Eventually Laurel becomes a symbol to Bonita for all the
harm and prejudice waiting for Mary. Besides Mary, Orlando
Duplantis is the most crucial figure in Bonita's life. He is a
grown man with a mysterious girlfriend, and he and Bonita form an
immediate bond. Along with Bonita, Orlando becomes responsible for
looking for and finding Mary when she would escape her family's
watchful eye. When Orlando is no longer there to take care of Mary
and ease Bonita's burden, the unspeakable happens to Mary, and
Bonita feels guilty at having been unable to prevent it. Yet, it is
not this one moment that defines the novel. The novel is instead
defined by the pain Bonita tries to hide from, which is first
released in a moment of violence and then slowly as she must return
home years later.

It is 1995 and Mary and Bonita prepare for their father's funeral.
As they see each other and their childhood home and friends again
after many years, Bonita's life of isolation and anonymity begins
to unravel --- and the puzzle of Bonita's adult life is pieced
together for the reader.

LOOKING FOR MARY GABRIEL is a promising debut. Lawrence's story is
as unique as its telling. And despite a scarcity of truly likable
characters (they are all quite realistically flawed) it becomes, by
the end, a book that has the power to elicit an emotional response
from the reader. Poignant and often frustrating, LOOKING FOR MARY
GABRIEL is heartbreaking in its treatment of the shadow cast by a
tragic childhood. While Bonita is not a hero, she is an interesting
and memorable character.

Reviewed by Sarah Egelman on January 22, 2011

Looking for Mary Gabriel
by Carole Lawrence

  • Publication Date: June 13, 2002
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
  • ISBN-10: 0312285418
  • ISBN-13: 9780312285418