Mary McGarry Morris
Mary McGarry Morris (born February 10, 1943) is an American novelist, short story author and playwright. In 1991, Michiko Kakutani of The New York Times described Mary McGarry Morris as "one of the most skillful new writers at work in America today" ; The Washington Post has described her as a "superb storyteller" ; and The Miami Herald has called her "one of our finest American writers. " She has been most often compared to John Steinbeck and Carson McCullers. Although her writing style is different, she also has been compared to William Faulkner for her character-driven storytelling. A finalist for the National Book Award  and PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction  and best-selling author, Morris has published eight (8) novels and numerous short stories and has written a play about the insanity trial of Mary Todd Lincoln.
Her first novel, Vanished , was written over ten-year period with only her husband and children aware of her writing effort.  It was rejected by numerous publishers and agents before an agent, Jean Naggar, helped her sell it to Viking Press.  It was published in 1988 to favorable reviews and was a finalist for the National Book Award  and the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction .
Her 1991 novel, A Dangerous Woman, was named by Time Magazine as one of the Five Best Novels of the Year  and as one of the best books of the year by American Library Association (ALA) Library Journal. As a result of A Dangerous Woman, Morris won the Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers Award.  The novel also was the basis for a 1993 movie of the same name which starred among others Debra Winger, Gabriel Byrne, David Strathairn, Barbara Hershey, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Jake Gyllenhaal.
Her 1995 novel (her third) Songs in Ordinary Time , sold one and one-half million copies; was a New York Times Bestseller; was a selection of Oprah's Book Club ; and was made into a CBS made for television movie starring Sissy Spacek and Beau Bridges.
Her 2000 novel, her fourth, Fiona Range  was published to critical acclaim. A reviewer for The New York Times Book Review stated about Morris' writing: "She can bring the ordinary to life with the sheer clarity of vision. She knows how a house with children in it sounds at night, what the heat and bustle in a kitchen feel like before a family dinner and how indiscretions arise in a dining room when everyone is flushed with wine."
Morris' fifth novel, published in 2004 was entitled A Hole in the Universe  and tells the story of what happens when a man returns to his community after serving 25 years in prison for murder. The Washington Post wrote the following: "Morris is a master at sympathetic portraits of those clinging to the peripheries of society. And nowhere is her talent more evident than in her extraordinary new novel, A Hole in the Universe. Morris [is] a superb storyteller...and [her] undeniable compassion for and intuitive understanding of her characters' lives make us know and care about these people, too."
Her sixth novel, The Lost Mother  was published in 2005 and from the perspective of a 12 year old boy tells the story of what happens when the boy's mother leaves him, his sister and his father in the midst of the Great Depression. The Boston Globe described the book as "wonderful and absorbing" while The Washington Post wrote "The Lost Mother is the quietest, subtlest novel that ever kept me up into the small hours of the night, unable to look away."
Mary McGarry Morris stated the following about The Lost Mother:
"Inspiration was easy because it was during those same years that my grandmother abandoned her husband and three children. The day she left, she brought her four-year-old daughter and youngest child, my mother, to a friend's house, then, dressed in her very best clothes, my grandmother climbed into a taxi and rode away forever. The image of that little girl watching from the window as her mother deserted her would come to me whenever there was sorrow in my mother's life. Forgiving by nature, my mother tried to understand what had happened, but because she felt such love and fierce loyalty to her own children, her mother's actions remained a painful, troubling mystery. Growing up, I was keenly aware of the loss my mother felt as well as the great love and admiration she had for her father, a quiet country man who raised his three children alone in those desperate times, often working day and night to support them." 
In 2009 Morris' seventh novel, The Last Secret , was published. In an interview on National Public Radio Morris stated that the idea of the book came into her head while she was listening to "Gimme Some Lovin'" written by Steve Winwood and members of the Spencer Davis Group. The Last Secret depicts the nightmarish cinema that plays out in the life of an accomplished suburban mother when her world begins to unravel upon her discovery of her husband's betrayal and that it is a secret only to her, while at the same time a shameful secret from her past surfaces. A tautly told tale of psychological tension, The Last Secret accelerates to a shattering conclusion as it explores the irreparable consequences of two families’ dangerous secrets.
Morris' eighth novel, Light from a Distant Star , was published in 2011 to enthusiastic critical claim and drew comparisons to Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird." It tells the story of a brutal murder amidst family love in a town torn asunder. At the center of the novel is 13 year old Nellie Peck a pre-adolescent who is forced to wrestle with the meanings of loyalty, love and truth and the growing realization that justice may come at an extremely high price to all three. Ultimately, the novel is about courage and heroism and how a young woman transforms the lives of the adults in her world.
Awards and honors
- Finalist National Book Award 1988 
- Finalist PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction 1989 
- Five Best Books of 1991 Time Magazine 
- Best Books of 1991 American Library Association (ALA) Library Journal
- Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers Award 1991 
- Oprah Book Club Selection 1997 
“Astonishing… Morris’s book should be judged on its own merits, and against the work of our most highly practiced and accomplished novelists.” Vogue
"A dazzling first novel… Events are presented with such authority that they hum with both the authenticity of real life and the mythic power of fable. This is a startling and powerful debut” Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times 
“Vanished is a splendid accomplishment. It is notable for its concept and structure, for the fluid elegance of its language, and, perhaps above all, for the facility with which Ms. Morris enters the point of view and articulates the feelings, instincts and thoughts of characters who would never be able to express themselves with anything resembling the author’s stark composure.” Pittsburg Post-Gazzette
A Dangerous Woman
"Brilliantly acute ...Remarkable ... Morris' magnanimous ability to portray her characters with so much tenderness and cruelty may be her novel's finest strength." Boston Sunday Globe
Songs In Ordinary Time
"Morris seems merely to have been sharpening her skills when she wrote Vanished ... and A Dangerous Woman. Now she has brought all her gifts to bear on Songs of Ordinary Time. The flowing sentences and scenes make every page worth reading." The Philadelphia Inquirer
“Morris is a master storyteller, an acute observer of small-town America and of people who struggle, sometimes in vain, to have lives that amount to more than hard work and a cold bed… Fiona Range, the novel, is a wealth of passion and heartbreak.” USA Today
“While Morris’ earlier work has often been compared to Steinbeck and McCullers, here she seems unmistakably under the spell of the Brontë sisters ... Morris grounds her storytelling with compelling characterizations and masterful plotting.” New York Newsday
A Hole in the Universe
"Welcome to the world of Mary McGarry Morris — and what a world it is. Richly atmospheric, bristling with dialogue, so tightened with suspense it threatens to snap. Morris is a master at sympathetic portraits of those clinging to the peripheries of society. And nowhere is her talent more evident than in her extraordinary new novel, A Hole in the Universe. Morris [is] a superb storyteller ... and [her] undeniable compassion for and intuitive understanding of her characters' lives make us know and care about these people, too." Washington Post
The Lost Mother
“Never one to shy away from the messy and bleak, Morris unflinchingly illuminates the bitter existence of neglected children and their inspiring resilience, once again proving herself a storyteller of great compassion, insight, and depth.” Publishers Weekly
“The Lost Mother paints a nuanced portrait of small-town life ... Morris’s characters are finely drawn, her dialogue rings true, and the epic sweep of her storytelling draws apt comparison to Dickens and Steinbeck.” The Orlando Sentinel
"[The] subtlest novel that ever kept me up into the small hours of the night, unable to look away.” Washington Post
The Last Secret
“Keeping secrets leads to calamitous consequences in Morris’s disturbing domestic thriller. Morris (The Lost Mother) knocks over a domino chain of events that ... confirm the importance of comprehending past mistakes to avoid future ones.” Publishers Weekly
"The Last Secret would be another ... story of a woman discovering her husband's betrayal, but Morris pumps that old tale full of adrenaline by running a wicked psychological thriller in the background ... It all leads to a propulsive climax that makes this sensitive work of literary fiction also incredibly exciting." Washington Post
“Morris, a PEN/Faulkner finalist (Vanished) and Oprah Book Club author (Songs in Ordinary Time), here offers a ... plotline that develops into a memorable, cinematic novel through strong portrayals of complex personalities ... As suspense builds, Morris adds context and depth by carefully revealing inner lives dominated by deception and loneliness, creating empathy for a variety of flawed characters, including even monstrous Eddie.” Library Journal
Light From a Distant Star
“Mary McGarry Morris doesn't so much tell a story as spin a delicate and powerful web. With her elegant prose, beautifully drawn characters, and perfect pitch dialog, she lured me in. And with her intense and gripping plot, she had me ensnared. I was in love with the sensitive, smart and plucky Nellie from the very first moment I met her and I'll be thinking of her for a good long time. Light From a Distant Star is a wonderful, powerful novel not to be missed.” Lisa Unger, New York Times bestselling author of "Fragile"
“A timeless and timely look at small town life ... Morris' page-turner, (which evokes To Kill a Mockingbird) will satisfy her fans and send new readers searching for her earlier titles.” Washington Post
"Morris' finely crafted prose—simple and lyrical—captures perfectly that sliver of pre-adolescence when the very world around us seems to shudder and shift, when the adults we admire suddenly reveal their flaws, and everything we treasure seems to be slipping away." Associated Press
Morris was born in Meriden, Connecticut; was raised in Rutland, Vermont and currently resides in Andover, Massachusetts. She married Michael W. Morris and lives with him in Massachusetts. Her husband is a partner in the law firm Morris, Rossi & Hayes in Andover, Massachusetts. She and her husband had 5 children and, as a result, Morris spent many years writing late at night after her children went to bed. For many years before she was published, Morris did not share with her friends and extended family members that she was writing novels. Her first novel Vanished created a sensation not only for its award nominations, but also for the fact that few in literary circles and in her hometown knew she was a writer. Before she was able to dedicate herself entirely to writing, Morris worked as a social worker for the Massachusetts Department of Public Welfare in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Not surprisingly given her upbringing and her residence in Andover, Massachusetts, a number of her novels are set in fictional towns in Vermont while parts of Vanished, A Hole in the Universe and The Lost Mother are likewise set in Massachusetts.  
"What continues to fascinate me is how close to the fringe we all are, as close to the bounds of normalcy as to the fringe of chaos, disruption, aberration, and loss." 
"I suppose I am concerned with what my characters are looking for. I am concerned with their yearning -- the constant yearning of the human heart. That is what I feel when I am writing. And what I question." 
"There are countless Aubrey Wallaces in this world - little people, pale lives, the briefest, simplest human creatures. They are the shadows in early morning doorways and the solitary late night climbing of wooden stairs. They wash dishes in restaurants and mop floors and pick up litter in the park, and they are always startled to be spoken to, because no one ever does." 
"All parenting requires sacrifice, especially motherhood. Because love is the giving over of one's self to another, there must be sacrifice or else the love is depthless and self-serving." 
"Sometimes, charity is far easier given to a stranger on a dark night than to a pauper at our own table." 
"I'm often as amused as bewildered to hear characters from my previous novels described as "on the fringe" or "somewhat unusual." It is always surprising to be asked if I know "people like that." Of course I do; we all do. I see them as aspects of all of us." 
"I am not part of any literary world. And I have no desire to move into a literary world. I am wary of letting an aura take the place of the effort of writing." 
"By its very nature and in its healthiest aspects, the child-parent relationship entails discordance, conflict, struggle. I don't think it is ever possible to love a child too much. Often, however, the worst parenting is done in the name of love. And that can run the gamut from excessive permissiveness to abuse." 
"I begin with pen and paper. The first draft is written in longhand, with a very real, almost organic sensation of flow from the inside out. In the beginning, strong characters are more important than having a complete plot in mind. For me the story is always contained in the characters." 
"Born in Connecticut, raised in Vermont, and for most of my years now a Massachusetts resident living close by the New Hampshire border, I am certainly a New Englander." 
"The core of my life is writing. Without that, I'd be pretty miserable." 
- Vanished  (1988, Viking Press, ISBN 0-670-82216-7)
- A Dangerous Woman  (1991, Viking Press, ISBN 0-670-83699-0)
- Songs in Ordinary Time  (1995, Viking Press, ISBN 0-670-86014-X)
- Fiona Range  (2000, Viking Press, ISBN 0-670-89156-8)
- A Hole In the Universe  (2004, Viking Press, ISBN 0-670-03288-3)
- The Lost Mother  (2005, Viking Press, ISBN 0-670-03389-8)
- The Last Secret (2009, Shaye Areheart Books, ISBN 978-0-307-45127-9)
- Light from a Distant Star  (2011, Crown Publishing, ISBN 978-0-307-45186-6)
- Keillor, Garrison. Writer's Almanac. February 10, 2007.