In "Conversations with Mary Gordon," Mary Gordon reveals her intellectual vigor, her freewheeling humor, and her strongly held opinions on issues ranging from sex to contemporary literature and gender theory. With candor, she details her departure from and eventual return to her Irish-Catholic heritage.
Since the resounding success of her first novel, "Final Payments" (1978), Gordon has been one of America's most popular and controversial writers. She has published five novels, three novellas, two collections of essays, a short story collection, a memoir, a biography of Joan of Arc, and dozens of book reviews.
"Conversations with Mary Gordon" joins the writer in talks with Terry Gross, Charlie Rose, Edmund White, Madison Smartt Bell, Patrick H. Samway, and others. Nine of these interviews have never before been published.
Her many interviewers know her as a wonderful, gregarious, passionate, and articulate interviewee. This is surprising, considering that Gordon once insisted during an interview that "interviews are absolutely my idea of hell."
The clarity and conviction evident in her writing are matched by the same qualities in her conversation. She explores her favorite novelists--Virginia Woolf, Jane Austen, George Eliot, Thomas Hardy, Ford Madox Ford--and talks at length about how and why she uses Roman Catholicism as metaphor and symbol in her own writing.
Freely discussing the autobiographic influences in her work, she is open about the huge influence of her father. David Gordon, a journalist and scholar, died when Mary was seven. Mary loved him dearly, and she discusses his influence on her life and writing, as well as her profound disillusionment with him when she discovered the self-hatred and ultra-conservatism of his writing. Her utter devotion to him in early interviews gives way to disillusionment, rejection, and, ultimately, acceptance.
This collection allows the reader to trace the roots--both literary and autobiographical--of one of America's most fiercely intelligent and thoughtful writers.
Alma Bennett is an associate professor of humanities and English at Clemson University.