Mary and O’Neil frequently marveled at how, of all the lives they might have led, they had somehow found this one together. When they met at the Philadelphia high school where they’d come to teach, each had suffered a profound loss that had not healed. How likely was it that they could learn to trust, much less love, again?
Justin Cronin’s poignant debut traces the lives of Mary Olson and O’Neil Burke, two vulnerable young teachers who rediscover in each other a world alive with promise and hope. From the formative experiences of their early adulthood to marriage, parenthood, and beyond, this novel in stories illuminates the moments of grace that enable Mary and O’Neil to make peace with the deep emotional legacies that haunt them: the sudden, mysterious death of O’Neil’s parents, Mary’s long-ago decision to end a pregnancy, O’Neil’s sister’s battle with illness and a troubled marriage. Alive with magical nuance and unexpected encounters, Mary and O’Neil celebrates the uncommon in common lives, and the redemptive power of love.
“An astonishingly good first novel…fully engaging from the first paragraph. What a gift: to be able to live alongside these people for a while.” –Ann Patchett, Chicago Tribune
“A literary love story…about the fragility of good fortune and the accidental ways of finding happiness.” –USA Today
“Justin Cronin must have been a novelist in an earlier life. What else could account for the mature insight and the beautifully controlled technique we find in his debut novel?…Cronin succeeds, touchingly and tenderly, in portraying life itself as a triumph of hope over experience.” –The Boston Globe
“Justin Cronin’s Mary and O’Neil is that rare thing: a wholly engrossing story of the ordinary life.”–Madison Smartt Bell, author of All Souls’ Rising