Mary McGarry Morris

Mary McGarry Morris

Mary McGarry Morris (born February 10, 1943) is an American novelist, short story author and playwright. In 1991, Michiko Kakutani of The New York Times described Mary McGarry Morris as "one of the most skillful new writers at work in America today" [1]; The Washington Post has described her as a "superb storyteller" [2]; and The Miami Herald has called her "one of our finest American writers. [3]" She has been most often compared to John Steinbeck and Carson McCullers. Although her writing style is different, she also has been compared to William Faulkner for her character-driven storytelling. A finalist for the National Book Award [4] and PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction [5] and best-selling author, Morris has published six (6) novels and numerous short stories and has written a play about the insanity trial of Mary Todd Lincoln.


Published novels

Her first novel, Vanished, was written over ten-year period with only her husband and children aware of her writing effort. [6] It was rejected by numerous publishers and agents before an agent, Jean Naggar, helped her sell it to Viking Press. [7] It was published in 1988 to favorable reviews and was a finalist for the National Book Award [8] and the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction [9].

Her 1991 novel, A Dangerous Woman, was named by Time Magazine as one of the Five Best Novels of the Year [10] and as one of the best books of the year by American Library Association (ALA) Library Journal. As a result of A Dangerous Woman, Morris won the Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers Award. [11] The novel also was the basis for a 1993 movie of the same name which starred among others Debra Winger, Gabriel Byrne, David Strathairn, Barbara Hershey, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Jake Gyllenhaal.

Her 1995 novel (her third) Songs in Ordinary Time, sold one and one-half million copies; was a New York Times Bestseller; was a selection of Oprah's Book Club [12]; and was made into a CBS made for television movie starring Sissy Spacek and Beau Bridges.

Her 2000 novel, her fourth, Fiona Range was published to critical acclaim. A reviewer for The New York Times Book Review stated about Morris' writing: "She can bring the ordinary to life with the sheer clarity of vision. She knows how a house with children in it sounds at night, what the heat and bustle in a kitchen feel like before a family dinner and how indiscretions arise in a dining room when everyone is flushed with wine."

Morris' fifth novel, published in 2004 was entitled A Hole in the Universe and tells the story of what happens when a man returns to his community after serving 25 years in prison for murder. The Washington Post wrote the following: "Morris is a master at sympathetic portraits of those clinging to the peripheries of society. And nowhere is her talent more evident than in her extraordinary new novel, A Hole in the Universe. Morris [is] a superb storyteller...and [her] undeniable compassion for and intuitive understanding of her characters' lives make us know and care about these people, too."

Her sixth novel, The Lost Mother was published in 2005 and from the perspective of a 12 year old boy tells the story of what happens when the boy's mother leaves him, his sister and his father in the midst of the Great Depression. The Boston Globe described the book as "wonderful and absorbing" while The Washington Post wrote "The Lost Mother is the quietest, subtlest novel that ever kept me up into the small hours of the night, unable to look away."

Mary McGarry Morris stated the following about The Lost Mother:

"Inspiration was easy because it was during those same years that my grandmother abandoned her husband and three children. The day she left, she brought her four-year-old daughter and youngest child, my mother, to a friend's house, then, dressed in her very best clothes, my grandmother climbed into a taxi and rode away forever. The image of that little girl watching from the window as her mother deserted her would come to me whenever there was sorrow in my mother's life. Forgiving by nature, my mother tried to understand what had happened, but because she felt such love and fierce loyalty to her own children, her mother's actions remained a painful, troubling mystery. Growing up, I was keenly aware of the loss my mother felt as well as the great love and admiration she had for her father, a quiet country man who raised his three children alone in those desperate times, often working day and night to support them." [13]

Awards and honors

Review excerpts


“Astonishing… Morris’s book should be judged on its own merits, and against the work of our most highly practiced and accomplished novelists.” Vogue

"A dazzling first novel… Events are presented with such authority that they hum with both the authenticity of real life and the mythic power of fable. This is a startling and powerful debut” Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times [19]

A Dangerous Woman

“At once deeply thrilling and deeply affecting...should burnish Ms. Morris’s reputation as one of the most skillful new writers at work in America today.” The New York Times [20]

"Brilliantly acute ...Remarkable ... Morris' magnanimous ability to portray her characters with so much tenderness and cruelty may be her novel's finest strength." Boston Sunday Globe

Songs In Ordinary Time

“A gritty, beautifully crafted novel rich in wisdom and suspense ... Secures Morris’s status as one of our finest American writers.” The Miami Herald

"Morris seems merely to have been sharpening her skills when she wrote Vanished ... and A Dangerous Woman. Now she has brought all her gifts to bear on Songs of Ordinary Time. The flowing sentences and scenes make every page worth reading." The Philadelphia Inquirer

Fiona Range

“Morris is a master storyteller, an acute observer of small-town America and of people who struggle, sometimes in vain, to have lives that amount to more than hard work and a cold bed… Fiona Range, the novel, is a wealth of passion and heartbreak.” USA Today

“While Morris’ earlier work has often been compared to Steinbeck and McCullers, here she seems unmistakably under the spell of the Bronte sisters ... Morris grounds her storytelling with compelling characterizations and masterful plotting.” New York Newsday

A Hole in the Universe

"Welcome to the world of Mary McGarry Morris — and what a world it is. Richly atmospheric, bristling with dialogue, so tightened with suspense it threatens to snap. Morris is a master at sympathetic portraits of those clinging to the peripheries of society. And nowhere is her talent more evident than in her extraordinary new novel, A Hole in the Universe. Morris [is] a superb storyteller ... and [her] undeniable compassion for and intuitive understanding of her characters' lives make us know and care about these people, too." Washington Post

The Lost Mother

“Never one to shy away from the messy and bleak, Morris unflinchingly illuminates the bitter existence of neglected children and their inspiring resilience, once again proving herself a storyteller of great compassion, insight, and depth.” Publishers Weekly

“The Lost Mother paints a nuanced portrait of small-town life ... Morris’s characters are finely drawn, her dialogue rings true, and the epic sweep of her storytelling draws apt comparison to Dickens and Steinbeck.” The Orlando Sentinel


Morris was born in Meriden, Connecticut; was raised in Rutland, Vermont and currently resides in Andover, Massachusetts. She married Michael W. Morris and lives with him in Massachusetts. Her husband is a partner in the law firm Morris, Rossi & Hayes in Andover, Massachusetts. She and her husband had 5 children and, as a result, Morris spent many years writing late at night after her children went to bed. For many years before she was published, Morris did not share with her friends and extended family members that she was writing novels. Her first novel Vanished created a sensation not only for its award nominations, but also for the fact that few in literary circles and in her hometown knew she was a writer. Before she was able to dedicate herself entirely to writing, Morris worked as a social worker for the Massachusetts Department of Public Welfare in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Not surprisingly given her upbringing and her residence in Andover, Massachusetts, a number of her novels are set in fictional towns in Vermont while parts of Vanished, A Hole in the Universe and The Lost Mother are likewise set in Massachusetts. [21] [22]

Mary McGarry Morris is not related to the author named "Mary Morris," but may be a distant relative of award-winning writer Jean McGarry. [23] [24]


"What continues to fascinate me is how close to the fringe we all are, as close to the bounds of normalcy as to the fringe of chaos, disruption, aberration, and loss." [25]

"I suppose I am concerned with what my characters are looking for. I am concerned with their yearning -- the constant yearning of the human heart. That is what I feel when I am writing. And what I question." [26]

"There are countless Aubrey Wallaces in this world - little people, pale lives, the briefest, simplest human creatures. They are the shadows in early morning doorways and the solitary late night climbing of wooden stairs. They wash dishes in restaurants and mop floors and pick up litter in the park, and they are always startled to be spoken to, because no one ever does." [27]

"All parenting requires sacrifice, especially motherhood. Because love is the giving over of one's self to another, there must be sacrifice or else the love is depthless and self-serving." [28]

"Sometimes, charity is far easier given to a stranger on a dark night than to a pauper at our own table." [29]

"I'm often as amused as bewildered to hear characters from my previous novels described as "on the fringe" or "somewhat unusual." It is always surprising to be asked if I know "people like that." Of course I do; we all do. I see them as aspects of all of us." [30]

"I am not part of any literary world. And I have no desire to move into a literary world. I am wary of letting an aura take the place of the effort of writing." [31]

"By its very nature and in its healthiest aspects, the child-parent relationship entails discordance, conflict, struggle. I don't think it is ever possible to love a child too much. Often, however, the worst parenting is done in the name of love. And that can run the gamut from excessive permissiveness to abuse." [32]

"I begin with pen and paper. The first draft is written in longhand, with a very real, almost organic sensation of flow from the inside out. In the beginning, strong characters are more important than having a complete plot in mind. For me the story is always contained in the characters." [33]

"Born in Connecticut, raised in Vermont, and for most of my years now a Massachusetts resident living close by the New Hampshire border, I am certainly a New Englander." [34]

"The core of my life is writing. Without that, I'd be pretty miserable." [35]



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