Men and Angels: A Novel

Men and Angels: A Novel

by Mary Gordon

NOOK BookDigital Original (eBook - Digital Original)

$1.99 $9.99 Save 80% Current price is $1.99, Original price is $9.99. You Save 80%.

Available on Compatible NOOK Devices and the free NOOK Apps.
WANT A NOOK?  Explore Now
LEND ME® See Details

Overview

With her husband abroad, an art historian employs a devout but difficult nanny, unsettling her domestic life as well as her view of motherhood—and of herself
When Anne Foster’s husband accepts a yearlong teaching job in France, she decides to resume her own career in art history, which includes cataloging the work of a compelling and long-neglected painter, Caroline Watson. To care for her children, Anne employs the pious Laura Post. Though the young woman is well liked by the children, she rubs Anne the wrong way. Should Anne be more compassionate, or should she behave more like the willful artist—and unapologetically bad mother—she’s so fascinated by in Watson? As the discord mounts between Anne and Laura, the need for answers sharpens.
Men and Angels
is a riveting and refreshingly unsentimental inquiry into motherhood and sacrifice.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781480414983
Publisher: Open Road Media
Publication date: 08/06/2013
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 239
Sales rank: 595,567
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Born in New York to a Catholic mother and a father who converted to Catholicism from Judaism, Mary Gordon was raised in a strict, religious environment and at one time considered becoming a nun. She attended Barnard College and in 1978 published her first novel, Final Payments. She followed that with The Company of Women (1981), both books exploring the challenges faced by young Catholic women as they make their way in the larger, secular world. Her other novels include Men and Angels (1985), The Other Side (1989), Spending (1998), and Pearl (2005), the story of an Irish-American mother forced to reexamine her faith and political ideals as her daughter slowly starves herself during a hunger strike in Ireland. 
With the The Shadow Man: A Daughter’s Search for Her Father (1996), Gordon turned her attention to her own family, examining the mysterious and complicated life of her father, a Jewish convert to Catholicism who died when she was seven, leaving behind a web of lies and half-truths about his past. 
Gordon is also the author of three novellas, collected in The Rest of Life; a book of short stories called Temporary Shelter (1987); and two collections of essays, Good Boys and Dead Girls (1992) and Seeing Through Places: Reflections on Geography and Identity (2003). In 2000, she published a biography of Joan of Arc. 
She has received the Lila Wallace Reader’s Digest Writers Award and a Guggenheim Fellowship, and is also a three-time recipient of the O. Henry Award for best short story. The Company of Women was a finalist for the National Book Award in 1983.
Gordon currently teaches literature and writing at Barnard College. 
Born in New York to a Catholic mother and a father who converted to Catholicism from Judaism, Mary Gordon was raised in a strict, religious environment and at one time considered becoming a nun. She attended Barnard College and in 1978 published her first novel, Final Payments. She followed that with The Company of Women (1981), both books exploring the challenges faced by young Catholic women as they make their way in the larger, secular world. Her other novels include Men and Angels (1985), The Other Side (1989), Spending (1998), and Pearl (2005), the story of an Irish-American mother forced to reexamine her faith and political ideals as her daughter slowly starves herself during a hunger strike in Ireland.
With the The Shadow Man: A Daughter’s Search for Her Father (1996), Gordon turned her attention to her own family, examining the mysterious and complicated life of her father, a Jewish convert to Catholicism who died when she was seven, leaving behind a web of lies and half-truths about his past.
Gordon is also the author of three novellas, collected in The Rest of Life; a book of short stories called Temporary Shelter (1987); and two collections of essays, Good Boys and Dead Girls (1992) and Seeing Through Places: Reflections on Geography and Identity (2003). In 2000, she published a biography of Joan of Arc.
She has received the Lila Wallace Reader’s Digest Writers Award and a Guggenheim Fellowship, and is also a three-time recipient of the O. Henry Award for best short story. The Company of Women was a finalist for the National Book Award in 1983.
Gordon currently teaches literature and writing at Barnard College. 

Hometown:

New York, New York

Date of Birth:

December 8, 1949

Place of Birth:

New York, New York

Education:

A.B., Barnard College, 1971; M.A., Syracuse University, 1973

Read an Excerpt

Men and Angels

A Novel


By Mary Gordon

OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA

Copyright © 1985 Mary Gordon
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4804-1498-3


CHAPTER 1

She had nothing to fear. She was flying from London to New York; when she landed, she would have no place to go. But why should she be frightened? She opened her Bible and turned to the words of the Lord: "Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should have no compassion on the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have graven you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me."

Isaiah the prophet. She had made a collection of the words of Scripture which showed that family love was not important. Which proved that it was weak and unreliable and should be left. I have graven you on the palms of my hands. What human parent would do that? She laughed to think of her mother doing that. Once she had tried it herself, tried to make herself carve her mother's name on the palms of her hands. She couldn't do it. She feared the knife, the blood, the skin that flapped, the shock. She did not have the courage for her mother's name.

Jesus had said a man should leave father and mother. She had done this, had been misunderstood, unwelcomed, asked to leave places, but Jesus had said this would happen to the chosen. Leave your parents, He had said. Take no gold, nor silver, He had said, nor copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor a staff; for the laborer deserves his food. And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay with him until you depart. As you enter the house, salute it. And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. And if any one will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Truly, I say to you, it shall be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.

Behold, He had said, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.

She had made her mistake by not heeding this counsel of Jesus. Wise as serpents. She had been too trusting, been too open with her stories of the Spirit coming to her.

The Chamberlains had hired her in Syracuse to go with them to London. For six months while they worked there, to take care of the children. He was a scientist; he studied the brains of fish. Then, after a month, "As it turns out, there's not as much work for Joan as we originally thought. So she can take care of the kids. So we won't be needing you. Guess our eyes turned out to be bigger than our stomachs. Ha ha. But we won't leave you stranded. I want you to know that, Laura," Jack Chamberlain had said. "We found out from a friend of ours, a guy I work with, about a woman over in Chalk Farm who rents rooms to students. People your own age. You'll have a ball, believe me. And then you'll have your ticket home in August. It'll be a great time for you, believe me."

Shake the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. She knew what they thought, that she was bad for the children. But the children liked her. Jennifer, the youngest child, cried when Laura said good-bye to her. Their parents didn't understand them. But she understood. She always understood children. Their great unhappiness she always saw. They were victims of injustice from the moment of their birth. Believing human love to be important, they must suffer. This was how she could help them. She could teach them human love was not important, and their suffering would end, as hers had ended.

How she had suffered every day before she knew. She had been a good child, and her mother had not loved her. She was slow, her mother said. And her mother was full of quickness; her movements danced, all the gestures of her hands, her words (her mother would make people laugh with her quickness) ended in points of silver. Laura was slow, slow in her movements like her father's family. Yet the teachers said she showed great promise in some subjects. And Miss Gildersleeve, the home economics teacher, said Laura sewed like a dream. That's good, said her mother, it's a good hobby for an old maid.

Yet she had loved her mother, wanted to be near her, loved the feel of her bones through her light flesh, loved the quick movements of her skirt. She had loved her mother's body as a child.

If only her father had loved her. But her father loved her mother. Daughters frightened him. He would have liked a son.

But she no longer said, "If only they had loved me." Now she knew that it was not important. She had suffered thinking that a parent's love had meaning. Now she knew a parent's love was nothing. She was the favorite, the chosen, and her parents had not known it. So she had suffered as all children must suffer till they know the truth.

It was in a garden that the Spirit first had come to her. Four years ago, when she was seventeen. She had been so unhappy then. Had always been, before she knew the truth. Before it had been shown to her. The way of the Lord was beauty, was the Spirit in the garden. It was also fire. And it also was the sword.

The Spirit now would lead her. She would find work somewhere taking care of children. She loved them; she knew what they were thinking. She knew what they needed for their lives. The knowledge of the Spirit, the knowledge that human love meant nothing. It was only the Love of God that could protect and lead and cover. If they didn't know that, they would not feel safe. She would teach that to the next children she cared for.

Now she was flying; she could see the clouds thick, blunted, distant, solid as the earth. And that morning she had been in London in the house of Mrs. Bates, who had no top teeth and on the bottom only two. Whose hair seemed made of what she found in the bottom of the filthy bucket where she stored her mop. Whose son never got out of his dirty bathrobe. Where the radio sent words like bent pins through the ceiling to her. Here the Spirit had come to her most clearly. Here she was reminded that she was the chosen of the Lord. That she must be anxious about nothing. That she was greatly favored of her Father.

How could she be unhappy, when she had been chosen, had been singled out, and had been called the favorite? Because she knew she must be open to the plans the Lord had for her, she left her room each morning after breakfast, having eaten her bread and margarine and jelly, having drunk, out of a bottle, the pint of rich milk she bought each evening at the Pakistani grocer's. All morning she walked the streets smiling, ready to meet the next person who, believing he was helping her, would be buying for himself a treasure that thieves could not steal. Yet no one talked to her. She passed the small dark shops that had odd things in their cluttered windows: shoes and teapots next to one another, old women's clothing. She walked beneath the railroad bridge with its billboard advertising Cadbury's chocolate, showing a child devouring a candy bar. Each day she walked till it was time for lunch. A smell of slowly burning wires hung above the street all day. A close unhealthy smoke was always near.

Each day she had lunch at the Wimpy bar on Camden High Street. It seemed a good place for her to be; the food would not surprise her. The tops of the tables were always sticky. Always on the surface of the ketchup bottles and the vinegar bottles she found a sticky film. She thought that since there were always so many people eating there, she would meet the next person who would help her on her journey. Or who believed he was helping her. For she needed no one. Other people needed her.

But six weeks passed, and no one talked to her. Except the Indian boy who changed the sugar bowls, and she believed he was interested in having sex. On the first of August she arrived at the airport holding only her small canvas bag. She left the rest of her things at Mrs. Bates's. For Jesus had said to the disciples: nor take two tunics, nor sandals, nor a staff.

She had got on the plane unworried. Her Father had something in store for her. She needed merely to live her life, bathed in the Light of the Spirit. Sheltered in her Father's arms.

She must smile now at the woman sitting next to her. For she must always be ready. Anyone could be the person, the person showing her the next part of the journey. Not knowing that she needed nothing. That she was the chosen of the Lord.

She smiled now; she put down her Bible. The woman's skin was mottled, red and white; she'd tried to hide it, but the powder made it worse. She turned around and smiled at everyone as she took her jacket off, trying to have her smile returned. So Laura saw it; she could always see it, the hunger. Talk to me, it said, that smile, looking around to be met. Her eye fell upon Laura. "Let me put that up above for you," said Laura. "I'm a lot taller."

"How kind," the woman said with a slight accent. "But then Americans are always kind to me. Where are you going, what do you do?"

Laura said, "New York. I'm not quite sure what I'll do when I get there."

She knew what the woman wanted. Let me talk, the eyes said, the plain eyes. Men did not love her. Yes, I will let you talk. I will make you feel that I am listening. I will not be listening. But you may want to help me.

So the woman talked and talked. She was from Paris. She was going to Massachusetts, quite near New York, to a town called Selby. Selby College, of course you've heard of it, of course.

"Of course," Laura said. Though she had not.

The woman was going to teach there a year. She'd traded places with a friend of hers. He was taking her place at Toulouse, where he would teach English a year; she would teach French at Selby. But not until September. Until then she would visit her beloved American friends. All over they are scattered, she said, fluttering her hands. New Jersey, Georgia, Illinois. And one in California. So this summer I will visit all over your fascinating country, keeping my friendships in repair as the great Dr. Johnson said.

Laura had to pretend she knew who the great Dr. Johnson was. And smile. And make the woman glad she was near her. For perhaps then she would help Laura.

She asked Laura about her parents. "They are dead," she told the woman. It was not true, but they were dead to her. And if people heard that, they wanted to help you. "I'm on my own," she said. "That's why I don't know quite what to do next."

The woman, Hélène her name was, looked at Laura's lap, down at her Bible.

"Do you have a religious life? Or are you reading for the poetry?"

Laura did not know what she meant. But she thought if the woman asked her, she must be religious. People who weren't looked away when they saw the Bible, as if it were a sore that she unwrapped before their eyes.

"I have a religious life," she said. It was a way of putting it. She would not say, "I am the chosen of the Lord." The woman had given her a way of putting it. "I have a religious life," she would say from now on. She would be wise as serpents. Now that the Lord had shown her.

So then the woman said she, too, had a religious life. She talked about the love of God. Laura stopped listening but looked as if she was listening with love. She knew the woman was a fool. But perhaps the woman could help her. She knew what the woman wanted. She was always talking about her friends, her darling English friends she wept to leave at the airport. "Five of them came to see me off!" she said. Her wonderful American friends, some of whom she had not seen for years. And she told Laura—you will understand, she said, having a religious life—about her friends the worker priests, her friend the missionary nun in Guatemala. Laura smiled. She let her mind think of the Chamberlains. It would be more terrible for them than for Sodom and Gomorrah. The Lord had said it.

"You must be a wonderful friend to have so many friends," said Laura, knowing that was what Hélène wanted. Pride and loneliness. They ate the woman up. It would be easy to make her think that she was helping Laura; it would be easy, she could see it now; this was the person who would help her next. Not that she needed help. Not really. Only in the things that perished, that the moths ate, that rusted, that ended in the drain. If only she had no need of clothes and food and shelter. As it was, she needed very little. But she did need that. So she would smile at the woman and listen to the stories of her friends, listen with half her mind while with the other she remembered who she was. The chosen of the Lord.

She told the woman that although she had faith the Lord would provide, she was worried for her immediate future. "I have nowhere to go," she said. She told her about the Chamberlains. But did not tell her they had made her leave. I have nowhere to go, she said, hoping the woman would remember she had said both her parents were dead.

"I have it," said Hélène. "Why don't you live in my house in Selby? The college has got it for me. It's a nice town, a lot of young people. Two hours from New York and two from Boston. You'd like it, you could probably find a job. Unfortunately, my darling friend will not be there. But probably I could find some names of people who need help caring for their children. In America the women do not want to take care of their children. They say they want to find themselves. I did not know that they were lost."

She laughed, and Laura laughed, pretending that she understood. She thanked Hélène. She said the Lord had sent her. Why should we be afraid, she said, when we are in the hands of the Lord?

"How beautiful it is, your faith," Hélène said. "That is why, of course, I trust you, although I do not know you. What is our faith for if we suspect the stranger, if we close the open hand out of fear?"

She listened to Hélène tell about her dear friend Michael. What a tragedy that he would not be in Selby for Laura to meet. A great man. A kind man, and so intelligent and handsome. His wife, Anne, was sweet, but nothing up to him. Pretty and sweet, but essentially rather empty. A person of no ideas. Her looks have served her badly, they have hindered her development. She has that kind of prettiness that people like. So she has never had to stretch herself, or grow. It is a pity. She will never understand her husband. She can never be a true companion to him.

Laura saw that Hélène loved the husband, hated the pretty wife. And that the man would never love her. And the wife would have the husband and the children and the house, and Hélène's bitter heart would say the woman was a fool. But Hélène would never have what she wanted. So she would always be talking to people on planes. She would always be giving the keys of her house to strangers.

Laura kissed her. Took the keys. Said she would see the house was spotless when Hélène arrived in a week. "I'm good at that. I like that sort of thing," she said.

"Thank God. I am quite hopeless. I'm afraid my mother spoiled me in this way."

Laura said good-bye to Hélène, taking her keys, the numbers of her friends in Georgia. In Detroit. In Illinois. In California. I will see you in a week, she said, leaving her at the gate of her next flight.

She had only ten dollars. She would eat bread and margarine and jelly as she had in London for these months. She would go to Selby, Massachusetts. To the house she had the key to. She would find work taking care of children. Then she would teach them. She would teach them the word of the Lord. That the love they longed for was as nothing. That the way of the Lord was light. And that she was the favored one, the chosen of the Lord. And they would see it. But at first she would not speak of these things. Until she saw they loved her. She would be wise as serpents. Wise as serpents and innocent as doves.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Men and Angels by Mary Gordon. Copyright © 1985 Mary Gordon. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Customer Reviews