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Mary and O'Neil: A Novel in Stories

3.88 of 5 stars 3.88  ·  rating details  ·  1,410 ratings  ·  228 reviews
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...more
Paperback, 256 pages
Published January 29th 2002 by Dial Press Trade Paperback (first published 2001)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Meg
Jan 18, 2010 Meg rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: the highly metaphorical
This book is just a beautiful kind of beautiful. Most of you would probably consider it a 4, but it resonated with me at this point in my life (possibly my looming 30th birthday?...*silent sobs*) The storyline revolves around O'Neil as he grows from a warm-hearted collegiate goofball into an even warmer-hearted, middle-aged goofball (now with a little more insight into life). Themes address loss/mourning, the psychology of being at adult orphan, growing older, the power of different life stages....more
Melanie Sweeney Bowen
A book that can make me cry is rare, and this one made me cry twice. What's most impressive to me about this novel is the fact that it manages to make the reader feel empathy for its characters without seeming to manipulate. It stacks what any person would consider awful losses on its characters, but it doesn't say, "Now, please feel sorry for them." It's so quietly moving that the feelings it solicits are genuine - at least they were for me. It's able to do this, I believe, because of Cronin's...more
Jennifer
I absolutely love Justin Cronin's writing. Beautifully poignant, touching and intimate.

My first experience with Cronin's writing was The Passage. Absolutely thrilling yet intuitive writing, I was captivated and decided to purchase the other books he has written.

Justin Cronin's debut novel,Mary and O'Neil, is quite different than The Passage! After reading the more supernatural, thrilling The Passage, Mary and O'Neil is a more intimate tale of pain, happiness, love and relationships.

Coming bac...more
Jennifer (JC-S)
‘The moment would pass but until it did, no one was going anywhere.’

This novel uses eight linked stories of different length and from different perspectives to bring to life the characters of Mary and O’Neil. The stories, focussed on particular events in their lives, are dated so that we can follow the chronology of the events that have shaped the characters of Mary and O’Neil.

Most powerful of the stories, for me, was the opening story entitled ‘Last of the Leaves’. The central characters in th...more
Dennis Matthews
Because I so enjoyed "Domestic Violets" (Matthew Norman), and because I had already read a number of the books Norman included in his end notes as having been influential (but not this one), I downloaded "Mary and O'Neill", having never heard of either Cronin or this debut novel. It's a beautiful, slowly unfolding series of stories that form an engaging and poignant novel - told with enormous sensitivity, primarily through the eyes of O'Neill - husband, sibling, orphan, parent and often unwittin...more
Emma
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Blaire
Books with this structure (a novel composed of related stories) seem to be more and more common these days, but I think this novel was written when it was still pretty rare and therefore fairly innovative. It's the second book I've read of Mr. Cronin's, although it was the first he published, and I found it nearly as impressive as his later book. Astounding, really, for a debut novel. I'm not sure how old he was when he wrote this, but I assume he was fairly young. And yet the writing displays t...more
Carol
A wonderful story…spare, powerful and sometimes sad without being maudlin. In only 243 pages, this pint-sized novel touches on experiences that most of us will encounter in our lifetime. I liked the way the author started each of the eight “stories” in a later time period…each one focused on some major passage in the life of the main character, O’Neil Burke. It’s a character study (rather than action packed) recounting interconnected family stories with big themes such as love and marriage, agin...more
Sarah Macneill
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Allie
I needed another Justin Cronin book to tide me over while I'm waiting for The Twelve to arrive in the fall, and I found this earlier work charming. Cronin writes characters who interact with the world in a highly intuitive way, who experience the intangible and see everyday events as profound. In the hands of a less capable writer, this could result in overwrought rambling — but Cronin is able to exercise such restraint and articulate the inner world of his characters with nuance and grace. This...more
Rachel Muircroft
I picked up this book after reading Justin Cronin's The Passage, which I couldn't put down. This, his debut novel, was completely different but equally just as good. Justin has a knack of writing characters that make you care about them and subsequently care about what happens in their lives. I liked the structure of the book too - individual sections dedicated to certain characters that impacted and set the mould for the main character and the main thread of the overall story. A pleasant read.
Chris
After enjoying Cronin's prose in "The Summer Guest", I searched for his earlier book. Cronin's eloquent writing brought laughter and tears with his interwoven stories of love, life and being human. This book was published in 2001 and had only been taken out from my local library seven times, the last being one year ago. Oh what people are missing! I'll look forward to spreading the word.
Judi/Judith Riddle
A story about ordinary people and their lives, loves and losses. The stories were linked together to make up a loose plot but it was beautifully written. If you are into stories told in prose, this might be the book for you. However, if you are looking for an exciting plot I think you might be disappointed. A nice easy read.
Jason
4.5 Stars


Mary and O’Neil is Justin Cronin’s debut a novel, a book that many of my friends here at Goodreads have recommended to me. I read Cronin’s The Passage, a novel that I should have loved, but just never really connected with. This book like many others is simply a quiet piece of life. It has its focus on the love between a Parent and Child, Love between two very different siblings, and even love between man and woman. It also is heavily weighed down with loss and tragedy. Yet amazingly, t...more
James Quinn
I began reading this book based purely on how much I enjoyed 'The Passage'. I had no idea what to expect in terms of storyline but I was very quickly immersed in the fine story and the intriguing characters Cronin has created.

The structure of the novel is not one I usually like but I found it worked very well here, although some of the stories are a lot better than others. The very first story, where O'Neill's parents come to visit him in college, drew me in to the family very quickly and was b...more
Laura
My God.

This novel is luminous. I can't think of a better adjective to describe it.

My only previous experience with Cronin's work was the fantastic The Passage. While this novel is literary and concerns itself with the lives of a mid-20th century family, it is no less a wonder.

Mr. Cronin's writing flows so smoothly and the words he uses are unexpected but perfect for the storytelling. It is like reading a long, grand poem that opens up your very soul.

I was worried that I wouldn't like this novel...more
Debbie
A very sweet story about very nice, functional people who deal with loss, grief. No one gets angry. There are no drunks, no huge mistakes. There is marital infidelity that is dealt with stoicly,forgivingly. Everyone just behaved-- except the brother in law--too perfectly. Even the brother- in-law was sweet and forgiving at the end. God, I wanted someone to do something, anything, bad. Come on kick a door down!

But the writing is wonderful.

There aren't many stories out there like this--about good,...more
Sue
Wow. The book is not long, yet somehow so much is just packed into each word and carefully chosen turn of phrase. It made me laugh at times, and at others, just one sentence would take my breath away and leave me in tears. I loved each and every character, and appreciated how carefully and lovingly Cronin crafted them. I worried about how it would end, and how I would say good bye, but it was beautiful. Now I have to move on and choose something else, and this was the kind of book that leaves yo...more
Kristi
I love character-driven stories ... and I absolutely love the way Cronin puts a sentence together. He has an astute ability to set a scene and describe a character's unique view on the world around him/her ... basically a result of Cronin's undeniable and remarkable understanding of the human condition. I appreciate the way he tells each character's story from his/her own point of view. The reader can truly identify with every character in this book - a father, a mother, a sister, a brother, a l...more
Susan
Seriously one of the really great books that just didn't get the attention it should have. It's a gorgeous story, told in jumps over time, in different perspectives, through a series of short stories. I lost a Saturday to this book, start to finish, and became a huge fan. I think this book belongs right up there with Salinger stories, I laughed, I cried, and the writer trusted me to be smart enough to fill in details on my own. Just a work of art from start to finish.
Thing Two
I fell in love with Justin Cronin one afternoon in February, 2014. He talked to me about how to write, and that's all it took. I was hooked.

We discover all we need to know about Mary and O'Neil in eight separate stories. Cronin plants details along the way to help us shape who these two people are - to each other, and to the world.

In thinking back on the pleasure I experienced reading this book, I need to bump it up to five stars from four.
Josh
Nov 19, 2012 Josh rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: fun
Justin Cronin is my current favorite author and this book shows his skill at the short story and the novel. If the sub-title wasn't "A Novel in Stories" you wouldn't know that it is a collection of short stories. Each one is so full they definitely stand alone, but all together they tell a perfectly paced story of two lives coming together and building a friendship and romance together.
Linda
The word that comes to mind with this book is beautiful. I just finished the passage, which was very entertaining but who knew this author had such depth in him. There are several related stories in this book, covering life from college years to preretirement years. He nails thevjoys and sorrows of each period with such accuracy. Just a fantastic book.
Carmen McConnell
I knew Justin Cronin was a good writer from The Passage and read Mary and O'Neil because it was his first novel. Simply put: it's gorgeous. A tender, graceful and intimate portrayal of an ordinary family; of tragedy, emotional fragility, the small but momentous triumphs. Lovely. I will remember Arthur, Miriam, Kay, O'Neil and Mary for a long time.
Karen
4.75 stars. Excellent! One I'm sure will stay with me for decades, if not for a lifetime. Characters written so well, you feel that you just walked away from having lunch with them. How does he DO that? Kudos to Justin Cronin. He has raised the bar on the craft of writing fiction! Sláinte~
Dacia
Cronin sucked me in with his beautiful way of stringing words together ... then he made me cry. Dammit. A quick, pretty, and emotional read.
Darlene
After reading The Passage and really enjoying it, I discovered earlier novels by Justin Cronin. Not long ago, I read Mr. Cronin's novel, The Summer Guest, and I loved it as well. This novel, Mary and O'Neil, is actually Mr. Cronin's first novel and it is fantastic! If you're looking for a fast paced, action packed novel like The Passage, then this book is not for you; however, if you really enjoy a character driven story as I do, I think you will love it!

As was the case with Mr. Cronin's, The Su...more
Molly Bridgeforth
I started reading this at my husband recommendation. I read (half of) The Passage by Cronin at his suggestion too. His taste is either enigmatic or indiscriminate; nonetheless he is extremely, weirdly well read (like my English major is a sham well-read), because even after I declared that I was going to 'hate-read' Mary and O'Neil, I ended up falling in love with this book. I still hate-read it, but for different reasons. Mainly, because it is too beautiful with its poetic sentences and clever,...more
Mary Ann  Ryan
Just finished the second reading of this book, a rare thing for me, knowing it would give me peace and inspiration. Its characters possess a patient consciousness as they observe their life events unfold and include their dreams and subtle, intuitive visions in their self-reflections and recognitions of meaningful moments. So lovely to meet characters who recognize that they are experience happiness and honoring it.
Loretta
Let's see... Dreams, cancer, deadly car accidents, a chapter called "Orphans", more dreams, an abortion, more cancer, more dreams, yet more cancer, shitty and distant college prof husband having an affair with the au pair, more dreams. I didn't think it was possible to cram this many clichés into one book. I was wrong. Trite tear jerker. My friend Matt Joy summed it up best... Literary Lawrence Welk.
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Justin Cronin is an American novelist. Awards he's won for his fiction include the PEN/Hemingway Award, the Stephen Crane Prize, and the Whiting Writer's Award.

Born and raised in New England, Cronin is a graduate of Harvard University and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He currently lives with his wife and children in Houston, Texas where he is Professor of English at Rice University.

From Wikipedia
More about Justin Cronin...
The Passage (The Passage, #1) The Twelve (The Passage, #2) The Summer Guest A Passagem - Volume I The City of Mirrors (The Passage, #3)

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“And isn’t silence, in its way, a good sign? That everything is well, that the ship is still steaming safely away from shore?” 6 likes
“Arthur laughs at his son’s embarrassment, though he also knows that this is exactly the kind of thing he likes about her. What does anyone like? Freckles, the curve of hair where she tucks it behind an ear, the sound of her voice when she tells a joke, her great, gleaming trombone in its velvet case. O’Neil has had girlfriends before, but this, Arthur knows, is different; he is entering the web, the matrix of a thousand details that make another person real, not just an object to be wanted.” 3 likes
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