The beginnning hits you right between the eyes with a phone call on Christmas night, 1998, from the U.S. State Department to the mother of a young woman who has chained herself to a flagpole in front of the U.S. embassy in Dublin, Ireland.
The young woman, Pearl, has chained herself there, hasn't eaten anything in 6 weeks and hasn't drunk anything in several days. She is determined to die and, as she says, to pay witness.
Wow! A great beginning! And the writing is superb! I'm not very far along but so far it seems like it's going to be one of those books, you know, the one you can't put down. Oh I do hope so!
Here's what John Leonard said about Mary Gordon and Pearl:
FOR a moment, forget the symbolic weight that automatically attaches to a story about a man named Joseph, a woman named Maria and a reckoning at Christmas -- cold stone, blue air, torchlight and translucence. For the moment, just think of Joseph and Maria as two adults who happened to grow up together, on their way to a child at bay. They know so much about each other that their intimacy is almost septic. Which may be why Joseph holds his tongue for most of his life. He is afraid of what he might say.
But ''Pearl'' is a Mary Gordon novel. And if anything is certain about the author of ''Final Payments,'' ''The Company of Women,'' ''Men and Angels'' and ''The Other Side,'' it is that she will say anything. Endlessly inquisitive, utterly fearless, she may also be the least ingratiating novelist at serious work in America today. Like a hound of heaven, she is too busy going down a rabbit hole or up in holy smoke to care whether we adore her or root for her characters. Like her ghostly grandmothers, Mary McCarthy and Flannery O'Connor, she can't be embarrassed by bodies or ideas. And like the 12th-century nun and mystic Hildegard of Bingen, when she isn't writing poems, composing antiphons, transcribing visions, suffering migraines and talking back to kings and popes, she is equally eager to discuss divine harmony or female orgasm. ("Martyrs and Daughters," New York Times, 2/20/2005)