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The Liar's Wife by Mary Gordon
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The Liar's Wife

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The Liar's Wife by Mary Gordon
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Jul 07, 2015 | ISBN 9780307390332

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    Jul 07, 2015 | ISBN 9780307390332

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“Richly imagined and finely wrought. . . . The Liar’s Wife feels both warmly familiar and arrestingly original.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune

“The intelligence that breathes through [Gordon’s] characters tirelessly raises the unanswerable questions that animate all great fiction, lifting the reader out of the story and into the realm of ethical dilemma.” —The New York Times Book Review

“Pitch-perfect. . . . [Here are] four stories that are models of compression and searing insight. . . . Gordon’s voice is wry, her prose velvety.” —Oprah Magazine

“Thought-provoking. . . . The contemplative tales collected in The Liar’s Wife . . . force us to slow down and reflect. . . . Gordon’s characters are critical thinkers, people whose minds churn constantly with questions.” —The Washington Post

“Gordon’s skills are formidable; her writing, careful and exact. . . . [She] excels at the kind of minute observations that make her characters real.” —The Boston Globe

“Artful. . . . Riveting. . . . The four novellas in this volume have the genre’s characteristic combination of close narrative focus with enough wattage to pick out complexities of situation and character. What a blessing for their readers.” —The Washington Times

“A satisfying mix of narrative and perception. . . . [A] delight. . . . As Gordon admirably demonstrates in this quartet, the novella with its concentrated range is as pleasing a genre as any other.” —Richmond Times-Dispatch

The Liar’s Wife glints with Gordon’s enduring mettle: She draws from the dross of everyday life, a hidden gold. . . . Gordon is at her best.” —The Buffalo News

“[A] beautifully rendered book. . . . The novella is an underutilized form, but Gordon shows a great affinity for its necessary constraints. In each 60-or-so-page story she manages to compress a trove of details, giving readers wholly fleshed worlds to savor and contemplate.” —BookPage

“Gordon returns to her favorite thematic territory: faith, innocence and their loss, intellectual ambition, physical affliction, self-sacrifice and guilt. . . . [She] enchants.” —Montgomery Advertiser

“Gordon[‘s] book is worth reading, for her wonderful language, her insights and her willingness to take on difficult issues.” —The National (AE)

The Liar’s Wife is a meaty and thoughtful book. . . . These are stories told in memory and questions by characters still moved by encounters and ideas that shaped them in pivotal moments. . . . Emotional and insightful.” —Book Reporter

“Incandescent. . . . Just like a great Gordon novel times four.” —Library Journal

Author Q&A

1.       Why the form of the four novellas? What does this format allow you to do that another format might not? Are there any limitations?
I like the form because it combines the intensity of a short story, the focus on a single event, moment, turning point, allows for space for exploration, but doesn’t require the creation of a whole world, which a novel does. I have been very drawn to great writers using the form: William Trevor’s Reading Turgenev, Katherine Anne Porter’s Pale Horse, Pale Rider, Eudora Welty’s June Recital, Turgenev’s First Love.

2.       The protagonists in THE LIAR’S WIFE all seem to be shaped in some way by their complex relationships with their mothers. It is as if remembering their mothers is their portal to the past, opening them up to feeling and allowing them to look at their own lives in a new light. These characters seem to be deeply, almost compulsively attached to their mothers, seeing them as the embodiment of perfection, and what is right, valuing their sacrifices, yet simultaneously striving to live their own separate lives. How do these mother-child relationships define your characters?

I have noted that mothers get rather a bad rap in literature, and I wanted to explore the tremendous force and power mothers have, and the limitations of understanding that a child has of her or his mother; an adult child is always a child in relation to the mother.

3.       The theme of knowledge and intelligence as both a gift yet also a burden comes up throughout your stories. Can you comment on the repeated intertwining of intelligence and suffering?

Perhaps I would substitute the word consciousness for intelligence, a sense that I have that awareness of the world inevitably leads to an awareness of the suffering involved in living. What Virginia Woolf says as the danger “Of living life for even one day.”  Humans do an enormous amount to muffle or obscure the knowledge and implications of suffering; in THE LIAR’S WIFE I wanted to turn the question on its head, and ask if increased consciousness automatically means increased life, or richness of life.

4.       A few of your stories allude to World War II and the deep suffering of the Jewish people. There is a dichotomy between this suffering in Europe and the events of daily life in some of your stories. It is particularly evident even in the title of one of your novellas, “Thomas Mann in Gary, Indiana.” Though the horrors of World War II occurred far away from places such as New York City or Gary, Indiana, your characters are still deeply affected. What effects does the displacement of such suffering have on your characters?

One of the great separations between Americans and Europeans is that we have not experienced war on our own soil. This has allowed for a particular kind of American innocence, which my character Bill is forced to relinquish when he meets Thomas Mann and later when he is involved in the War itself. Once again, I am dealing with questions of consciousness and its costs.

5.     In each of your novellas, the protagonist looks back on momentous experiences from their childhoods that have allowed them to grow and come of age. How do your writing techniques of prolepsis and analepsis add to your stories as a whole? What other writing techniques do you employ to allow for this spanning of time to work so well in a shorter piece?

I always want to anchor “momentous experiences” in the physical world, to avoid vagueness and abstraction, to root memory in the lived life of the body. In a shorter piece, one has to explore the mystery of the instantaneous leaps in time our mind makes while our bodies remain fixed in space.

6.       Many of your stories discuss characters that travel to different parts of the world and change in some way. What is the importance of travel for your characters and in what ways do their experiences in new places leave them altered?

For Jocelyn and Theresa, travel is both an adventure and a challenge, uprooting them from what they both consider are too comfortable, too small contexts, catapulting them into a larger world, but also reinforcing and clarifying their own identities, helping them to understand more fully who  they really are by confronting their sense of difference from the new place.

7.       There seems to be a continuous theme of teachers and students throughout this collection, which looks at the complex relationships between old world teachers and new world students. Having been a teacher yourself, what is the importance of this theme and what can we learn from it?

I am very interested in the complex, rather fragile, intense relationship between teachers and students, how this must grow and develop if it is going to be fruitful rather than stultifying as the student grows and matures. Good teachers know how to impart knowledge and to leave room for the student to go in her own direction, even go beyond the teacher. And we encounter teachers in surprising places, not just the formal classroom.

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