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from nashville public radio this is the fine print and exploration and celebration of the written word i'm rebecca bain when alice mcdermott won the national book award for her extraordinary novel charming billy and it came as such a surprise that she hadn't even prepared an acceptance speech she was possibly the only one who were surprised however since her first novel a bigamist daughter alice mcdermott has won the overwhelming admiration of critics and readers alike quote jonathan yardley from his review in the washington post mcdermott rights deceptively quiet domestic novels within which were large important matters among them love betrayal constancy loss designer remembrance and a particular constant maintenance work again in her fiction has none of the chest thumping bravado that draws gasps from the literati but there is much to be learned and
alice mcdermott's latest book is child of my heart set in suburban long island the book is narrated by fifteen year old teresa a young woman poised between the world of adults around the world of children and can trace who knows rubio has she says i was a teen and pretty and i didn't go out for a minute that i was the one with the advantage here alice mcdermott joins me today on the fine print to discuss her work but first she reads entries is voice a selection from child of my heart i believe my parents had a little wary of me by then is not merely wary of the physical changes of the long bare legs i pulled up under my chin as i did my toast into odd shapes with a widening shoulders and my t shirt the burning bras the way my easy to
admire childish beauty was quickly becoming something a little thinner and sharper and certainly more complicated but wary as well of what they must have believed was the fast approaching time of my fulfillment of their dream for me my absorption into that world they had taken so much trouble to place me on the threshold i suppose it was one of the ironies of their ambition for me of their upbringing and their sense of themselves that they would not see me as fully a part of that ryder world of wealthy people and supposing geniuses if i did not add some point recognized that they were not that's the best insurance they would have that i had indeed moved into a better stratum of society would be my scorn for the lesser one to which they belong they were dear people both my parents but the vividness of their dream of my rise their absolute
confidence in the inevitability of my success made them resent what they saw as its consequences even that summer when i was fifteen and party of no other social set on my own turning away from me in anticipation of my turning away from them they left me more alone that summer and perhaps i had ever been i would like to start with the importance of catholicism in your books and in your life because in some measures a large way in some measures a small white but catholicism is always an alice mcdermott block yes i'm afraid so i guess i'm i guess my fiction is as stuck with it as i am i think the significance of the eye irish american aspect of my work is just that it's more the catholicism then it is the place where the characters or their ancestors were born i suppose the things that interest
me most as a writer are not so much the circumstances of birth or the circumstances of life the plot lines but it's more the inner dialogue and using catholicism as a way of getting at that inner dialogue seemed sort of material at hand for me by having catholicism be a concern of my characters i then enable to give them a language for their spiritual life that they might not otherwise have in many ways that gives me a way into their spiritual lives do you think that this is something unique to catholicism this this interior voice to strong omnipresent interior voice no no i don't think it's unique to catholicism i think it's a it just as i say that for my own circumstances it becomes a weigh in and certainly there are many other doors to get in into that interior live ideas from meat eggs well there are a number of things i mean just as far as the craft goes that as i say these are characters
who might not otherwise be even concerned with their spiritual lives or their emotional lives practical characters characters are we trying to get through the day hay and any other way they are trying to discuss or explicate what's going on in their hearts and their minds would seem self conscious and i think that they would be reluctant to even tried to find a language for that the church gives them a readymade language and so much can be left and said it's not so much the particulars ydstie over casting language of larger issues that that they can use that also reflect the smaller issues in their lives again i don't think that's and anyway i primarily catholic thing that i think any organized religion anything that gives set language to the spiritual experience would would serve although there is a thing about catholicism and that his confession here have i'm not catholic but i
think that people who are used to going to confession must be heaven interior dialogue almost all the time of all right what have i done you know what do any detail what am i afraid to tell will the burning hell if i don't tell that i think those sorts of things whereas you know in other religions yeah we may be threatened with fire and brimstone in various religions to but we don't have a confession which is a very unique thing and i think it is definitely colors of what you write yeah well you know i'm a nice buzz effect that confession has lost its popularity of the last few generations might tell us something where all become a generic has been entered in many different ways we just all anybody know i'm going to go with maybe we don't ask ourselves as questions and we're more comfortable not asking ourselves as questions and i guess maybe the persistence of catholicism in my writing has something to do with holding on to that obviously there are many aspects of
the church the catholic church that would affect my characters and how they feel about life and about themselves was one is that is the constant reminder that death is near that even at the height of joy there's a sense of time passing there's a sense of a reckoning again it's not exclusive to the catholic church but it certainly is a large part of the liturgy of the language of the church the constant reminder that we are only here temporarily that it's very short that eternity awaits and so you know to surprise release but with that in mind and again i think that's something that that my characters are very aware and maybe this is where some of the ire starts creeping back into the catholic in that sense of it is that it gets summed up for me in that wonderful live from the eighth under every dancer a dead man in his grave that as you live there's also the simultaneous awareness of what's coming first saw and then there's also the again not exclusive to catholicism but a big part of the language of
catholicism is the sense of redemption and how do we go about being redeemed and why do we need redemption and what an impossible promise it is not merely that you will be forgiven your sense after you confessed the map to tell your story and not merely that you'll find a better way to live by being nice to one another and being a good person but the large an improbable promise that you will have eternal life and all these these small moments will fall away because there's something grand and marvelous an eternal and i suppose that hopefulness in the face of it against every bit of evidence that it says itself to is another thing that i think my characters are most interested in the hopefulness in the face of hopelessness that phrase when you tell your story in your latest book child of my heart we
have to resign a fifteen year old babysitter who is telling her story of a few days when she was fifty years old looking back at it from the vantage point of middle age the reader can help but wonder how much of this remembrance is strictly accurate and how much is colored by the fact that all these years have passed all these advanced have passed and we do tend to romanticize our past let's face it and gloss over what was bad and exalt what was good and therefore the picture is not entirely accurate although it's accurate to us yes yeah i suppose this is my departure from rio isn't taking and he weighs and it's very true it's not only that this is a first person narrator a narrator who's looking back over time as you say and it certainly isn't at the joys of
a first person narrator is ever arbitrary when we do it but there's also the sense that this is this is a character who has has had a vivid imaginary life since that time i learned during that time during that time is very rare times and is really an artist herself in terms of remaking the world so yes the astute friederike who will understand that the entire tale is a kind of artifact and wild the details that she conveys are realistic in themselves i suppose what i was aiming for in her telling of the story and her telling it as a recollection through time is more of an impression of the mental images the mammary and what happens to memory over time and how we reshape olympus reshape our stories similar to somehow make more sense of them and how certain objects end up being the reality of those memories like a
red dress tied at the shoulders with ribbons yes that's what struck me in reading this book i stopped and i thought about the sounds that i thought about clothes that i had had as a trial and what memories those clothes provoked and it was a very interesting experience to think about that that's what theresa has done this book is we have these very vivid images i love what people in her life had on especially her young charges as a babysitter and what that evokes in her there's a wonderful section her cousin daisy has come to stay with her poor daisey has reversed for daisy is from a family of a six i believe it is and she's slat dead in the middle and is her day said well she don't have much to say that we think will keep her have her whole heart the days it comes to visit and she
ends up wearing that some of teresa's clothes from when she was eight years old right and teresa says looking at you it's like looking at me when i was your age and you looking at many as you looking at the future but a powerful funding well thats what theresa does as a safe to reset as the artist which is a real name or she gives new names to the children in her care daisy for her becomes daisy mae but she's also more of your floor a door had cobwebs in pews but she's also the backstage wardrobe mistresses well and again this is this is the way she uses the reality those tangible memorized address that brings back her own eight year old self and that also brings back daisy at this time in her life in a summer vividly and yet is also being used for another purpose it's that's
been on reality that takes place not as the moment is happening but as the moment is retold it's the artist taking control of them a new set of like the random a new set of life and making it significant in a way it really isn't until we human beings do that is that something he did it is something we all davidson i think it's something we all do i think it's something that those of us involved in the arts do more self consciously or with more determination oh maybe i have more dissatisfaction with the randomness of life and objects but certainly is what theresa does not only in the retelling of the advance of these few days in summer when she was fifteen but also at the time itself as she christians each child with a new name and she dresses her cousin enclosed from just a few years back that were once cursed him and in some way transforms her life and also doesn't quite stop time doesn't feel herself only obliged to him that
she is playing the type she is showing daisy the future and she's also seeing her past and i think that's certainly what art is all about that moment of stopping time ago cohen says they're stepping on time's receding tale which i love and i think that certainly when she does both as a fifteen year old and then as the woman looking back and retelling maybe not exactly as it happened and as it serves her purpose of retailers our conversation with national book award winner alice mcdermott will resume after this brief time out i hope you can continue to check out the fine print support for the fine print comes from real estate brokers
allen coulter and jane smith of whitman realty incorporated entrusted to sell the most cherished homes in the nashville area four six three forty three thirty three you can hear the fine print any time by visiting our website he addresses w w w dot wpln thought oh margie scratch for it think it was looking back on when we were fifteen sixteen years old we certainly share something teresa felt which is youth your whole life ahead of you if you have time you are stepping on the test of time and holding him back there's a tremendous juxtaposition between teresa and the father of flora who is a painter in his
seventies an artist in his seventies who first read aloud the box makes the comment i wish i had in front of me what you have in front of you because as his would be biographer says later on as he is at the end of his life and he's looking back over his career his fifty years as a pet as an artist as a painter and he's realizing it's not what he hoped it would be might not last year and might not have snap right and to reset as probably only fifteen years ago thinks she can best him all day as you can get better at this artistic stuff then he has an antique she will indeed stop time she will indeed keep the shadow of the future away from this golden summer she can do that all the grownups around her are failures added that she's pretty sure she can actually put that passage down my advantage i realized was not only that i could barry cinnamon or pity him or
recognize his foolishness a supposed genius a rich man with a young wife not even the years i had left while his were spent my advantage was that i knew what he was trying to do here in his kingdom by the sea where art was what he said it was an limits of time and age were banished and everything was possible because everything that mattered was inside his head my advantage was that i knew what he was trying to do and i was better at it still go all the way and there's also an issue of class and this book teresa's parents live on long island they live there deliberately it's a tremendous commute from him to get to and from their jobs each day but they have the hope that theresa
they're beautiful gifted fifteen year old girl will move in these exalted circles of the long island rich course to their way of thinking mary sarah rich but that this will ensure her future that's right this summer takes place in the early sixties and to reset is the daughter of first generation immigrants irish catholics i'm afraid that they're sure it is and in some ways it and this is and then i know i've done before and i'm not the only writer to have done it but the city itself to new york in its vicinity as a kind of objective kerr relative to that yearning that one generation has for the next so that to resist parents moved out out of the city out of the immigrant past and now they're trying to move her out even further into the mainstream out to this beautiful spot on the end of long island away from the crowded city and the crowded suburbs of first generation immigrants to the place with a real americans are the wealthy americans where she might be spotted
by some and mary well with all the pressure on the girl and although as she says i am better at the dscc is at the idea that there's a powerful scene where the artist has drawn he scribbled some drawings he's been going through priest describes he goes to about fifty pieces of paper doing the same images and he finally signs warning gives it to her and says here you can use this to put your children through college but then her parents have it framed and teresa says today's epa hero she said i don't really know what it is i don't know what it means and daisy said well it's something that was broken something that you sort of expected to break but you didn't want it to break in he hoped it wouldn't and i thought well it takes a child some time to cut through all of that i mean
even at fifteen you're trying to assign meaning to say is that that may or may not be there but yes in the urals of that something broken right ray and enters into it fully and i mean that's that's that certainly the kinship between dc and jerry said that daisy enters fully into teresa stories and into her attempt to make these few days this golden summer and is fascinated by the artist herself the little eight year old the idea of this grown man making paintings doing his work them as teresa carlson which she thinks is very amusing that they would refer to this such activities day daisy has the kind of child that sympathy and appreciation somewhat different from teresa is teresa sees somehow that they are equal that they're both doing the same thing daisy is more in awe of bull theresa and the artist teresa of course is also standing on that place she's no longer a child she is not yet an adult but she spends the summer it seems to me i may be
wrong in engaging in an adult behavior taking care of these children and i mean that the care she gets to these kids is meticulous they don't even have to express what they watch is anticipated their every need and hears your cream cheese in jail a session yellen sit down and construct paper city where your mom is gone flora so that you can wave to your mother on top of the empire state building with her turquoise it's a remarkable thing for a fifteen year old to be that pressure pakistan now but there is still the child about her she is in both worlds this summer and she is the child is pretty much raised herself that her parents her neglectful they certainly hope the best for her which is why they have arrange their lives so that she can live in this beautiful place but in order to live in this beautiful place they both have to work and again this is the early sixties when it it was not quite as common so they have left to her own devices for a long time she refers to a woman who used an old woman used to come in and so to sit in the living room
no and watch her while her parents were work during the summer but she has been taking care of children since she was ten years old from her mother urged her to become a mother's helper to babysit to again to be in contact with the big houses and the rich people but she's also a natural caregiver she understands because she still a child herself she understands what these children need in the games that she do bies is for them and she says the story she tells them are all part of an ongoing game and story she's been entertaining herself with says she hasn't quite left her childhood behind she is still in that imaginative realm of childhood and the children around her i think our are shocked and amazed that someone slightly older someone with some of the talents of an adult in that she can prepare food she has money she can take them places they can go by themselves also recognizes their inner lives their imaginative lives so she
really is between both worlds there which is why she says that she's the queen of this world now is the up's use the older she's the one who has those talents the chisels and one has the full understanding of what it is to be a child and to be a lonely child every child like very much to her imaginative life the chilling around her are drawn to her because it's amazing to them that there is this semi adult who seems to be paying attention in a way no other adult in their world is paying attention distracted as they are by adult things queen is the absolute perfect word she is the most benevolent and wonderful of all queens but she still quaint she calls the shah absolutely and she's rather disdainful of the people outside her brown the dull she says not exactly saintly as far as how she is a harsh jets of the adults around her somewhat dismissive of them that are not approving of again near distraction that that they don't realize that the center of the universe really should be
these children and this imaginative world and not the world that they seem to be drawn towards yes she is benevolent to her charges but i think she also has sort of a sharp and often cutting our head towards the rest of the world you of course won the national book award for charming billy which may or may not put little stress on a writer for the next to work that appears was that all a concern a problem an issue in your mind at all when you wrote a child of my heart you know i really don't think so i think i knew at the time of getting the national book award was wonderful that arbitrary guessed it is i suppose if i had got to for my first novel i might not have been able to see it that way but and after you've been in this business a little while and you've seen how awards go and have a good sense of really what they're all about it's hard to take them too seriously as is a it's a wonderful gift and then and it certainly brought
me many more readers then i would've had otherwise and then them i will i would not turn it down but it's very easy to put in perspective that was then this is now and although i you know i heard dire warnings from from other writers among one rider told me immediately you'll have to be careful because the reviewers will be out to get you for your next book no they don't like it when you get too much publicity for one and seven am a take you down a peg you know and that was the ancient mariner i mean to my mind i were another writer told liane they're charming billy got the national book award because i finally centered a book on men and male characters and that's why i was taken seriously and just to sort of keep that mind so i turned around and wrote a book that fact that that centers on children even worse and then women now it i think as i said i think it's it's it's easy to put the perspective on every time you know every time you start a new story or a new book the pope turns out to be a book your writing for the first
time you know you don't want a repeat yourself i could repeat myself i tried but there's also the sense of this is a story i've never told before these are characters i've never done before and i have to be true to the vatican to their circumstances and everything else everything else has to sort of stay outside alice mcdermott won the national book award for her novel charming billy her latest book is titled child my heart and i just didn't want our program for this week and i hope you enjoyed it and i hope you can join the next week is well put together we'll check out the fine print for national public radio i'm rebecca bain the fine print is produced by rebecca bain and scott smith for national public radio cd copies of the program are available to order collar business office monday through friday at six one five seven six so two ninety three you
can hear the fine print any time by visiting our website you'll find more than three years worth of programs archive there was more information about the fine print book club including our current selection white doves morning by james lee burke published by simon and schuster the addresses w w w dot wpln thought oh archie slash fine for years william edward burkhardt is considered by most historians to be the premier architect of the civil rights movement in america this was a controversy your personality that of inpatient agitated combined with a language next week david levering lewis discusses his pulitzer prize winning biography of web dubois on the fine print saturday afternoon and sunday morning at nine and nashville public radio
The Fine Print
Program 03 08 Guest Alice McDermott Book Child Of My Heart
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An episode of WPLN's The Fine Print featuring host Rebecca Bain discussing an author's work with the author.
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Guest: McDermott, Alice
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