The Stories of Mary Gordon

Stories of Mary Gordonbook by Mary Gordon

annotation by Heather Luby

This collection is ripe with emotionally heavy themes; faith, family, the female struggle with self-image, the intricate relationships between damaged people, shame, the past, the list could go on. Her use of lyric prose and her ability to accentuate the most ravaging aspects of everyday life—to take the mundane and make it raw and so revealing of emotional truth—is so evident that it should not be the focus of my attention.

In reading this collection my intent was to strip away the surface of her stories in order to pinpoint aspects that I could emulate. Specifically, I viewed her structure or her use of a through line. While these things vary in all of her stories, I examined the story I enjoyed the most and I looked for what I could either duplicate or use in my own writing.

In the story, “Death in Naples” Gordon uses a close third narration. The story begins with a typical set-up (an anticipated upcoming trip). What works so well in this story is the juxtaposition of two story-lines. We are invested in both the present (a trip to Italy with Lorna, her son and daughter-in-law) and we are also invested in the mind of Lorna and her memories of Italy from a prior visit with her late husband. It is through Lorna’s inner thoughts and the lens of the past trip that we view everything else in the story. Gordon shapes our view of the son Jonathon, and the daughter-in-law Melanie, through the lens of Lorna’s remembered relationship with her husband. And through this scope the relationship between Jonathon and Melanie seems sterile in comparison. On page 46, Lorna first mentions the idea of a grandchild and thinks that Jonathon and Melanie will not have children, and this only deepens the reader’s suspicion of the couple as passionless. Additionally, because the present day trip continues to fall so painfully short of her remembered trip, the reader feels a sense of mounting dread for Lorna. Call it foreshadowing or something else, but the contrast is so stark that the reader feels the disappointment Lorna is feeling and we anticipate something dreadful is coming. On page 49, the storm in the story suddenly seems a reflection of the fear or chaos inside of Lorna. With Jonathon and Melanie absent, her late husband Richard absent, Lorna is alone in Italy with this storm outside and an inner feeling of being misplaced in the world. Her past and her present cannot find a peaceful place to coexist inside of her. Her death, which is felt is so many ways in the story (her actual death, the death of her admiration for her son’s marriage, the death of her love for Italy and her beautiful memories with Richard), is cumulative and yet Gordon manages to make it feel unexpected. Ultimately, from this story I am intrigued by Gordon’s ability use Lorna’s memories to show a women who gains so much pleasure from remembering her youth (and travels back to Italy to try and recapture it) and how this quest in the present leads her to her death. In other words, the use of a past and present storyline is what allows Lorna’s intrinsic motivation to be directly connected to the through line of the story.


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