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The history is better than the novel

There Your Heart Lies: A Novel - Mary Gordon

There Your Heart Lies, Mary Gordon, author; Angela Brazil, narrator

I realize that I am not as happy with this book as many readers, but I found the book to be very melodramatic and way too political in its approach toward religion. The overarching theme seemed to be to present almost every liberal cause it could. We have racism, homosexuals, environmentalists, corrupt priests, cruel conservatives who are all apparently communists, many of whom are Jewish, and fascists who roam Spain almost at will and are in charge as they murder all those discovered to disagree with them.

Reading the book held my interest, at first, but it kept swinging from time and place to a different character and scene, often without preparation or comfortable transition. It became repetitious as Marian tells her story to many different characters. The narrator over emoted so much that I found myself concentrating on her presentation, rather than the narrative, which led me to lose my focus. Even though the subject matter seems so contrived, sometimes, the history of the time is compelling as it covers seven decades of a changing world. Although it takes place during the years of the Holocaust, it concentrates on the Spanish Civil War, the Republicans on the right vs. Franco’s Nationalists on the left. The Republicans supposedly represent the wealthy who abuse the poor and love the Church too much.

The book begins in the mid 1930’s, with Marian, of the Newport Taylors, discovering a secret which changes the course of her life. Marian is 18. Her parents, her father especially, are very devout Catholics. She and her brother are the youngest of 9 children and the most neglected by their parents. They are therefore very close and not very attached to their parents whose ways they dislike. Marian despises her wealth (which is something only the very wealthy have the liberty to do), and her brother is a homosexual. At that time, homosexuality was a crime. It was considered a terrible mental disorder, curable with the use of drastic measures like shock treatments. When her father finds out, worried about his son’s immortal soul, he allows the doctrine of the church to take over. This leads to tragedy and Marian’s estrangement from her family. Her brother’s lover was Russell Rabinowitz, a doctor. Marian insists on marrying him, and they travel to Spain, where the Spanish Civil War is raging, to help the wounded. They are considered to be rojas, red, communists. Once there, Russell grows disillusioned as he learns that both sides are selfish and self-serving, willing to commit any atrocity to win. Some actually enjoy and thrive on the violence.

Tragedy and disappointment seem to follow Marian. She winds up at the home of her second husband, Ramon Ortiz, after his death.  He had died from Sepsis, but before he succumbed, he wrote his family to help Marian, only 19, who had no one in Spain to help her and who could not return home to America, at that time. There, she suffers under the hand of his fanatical, fascist mother, a pharmacist, who believes that if Marian is discovered as a Communist, her newborn son will be taken away. Her mother-in-law, Pilar, is as devout as her father was, and she raises Marian’s son, Ignacio, with a love for the church and a dislike for his own mother. Marian is a lapsed Catholic who resents the church and its hand in her brother’s suffering. For the next 7 years, Marian lives the life of a haunted woman who craves nothing but sleep. She rejects her child, feeling little for him. His mind is being poisoned and manipulated by Pilar. Her mother-in-law is eager to raise him since she believes Marian is incompetent. Marian begins to believe that she is helpless and useless. Her bravery has disappeared. She has suffered force the reader to suspend disbelief.

After Marian has an accident and breaks her leg, a doctor named Isabel, half Irish, who speaks English, takes her under her wing, and Marian’s life takes a turn for the better. She inspires her and nurses her back to mental health. Her brother is a priest, but Marian soon learns that he is a very good person and not the typical clergyman she is used to hating.

Soon the story moves back to America where Marian, now married to Theo, has a son named Jeremy whom she adores. She realizes she can feel maternal love. As Marian divorced herself from her parents, her granddaughter, Amelia, seems to prefer Marian to her own mother, Naomi, from whom she separates herself. Marian and Amelia are very close. Her father, Jeremy, has died. In some way, Marian, as a mother-in-law, has accomplished what Ramon’s mother had done, without even trying. Amelia lives with her as Ignacio lived with his grandmother. Amelia wants to reunite her mother with her son, but soon discovers that perhaps that is not the best idea in the world. Some leopards never change their spots. Still, Marian’s life comes full circle, but with a happier ending.

Obviously, the author is very liberal. She eschews the love of wealth and religion which she seems to view as evil and in her descriptions that is exactly what they appear to be. Those that worship money and G-d are also evil. When, at the end, Marian and Amelia discuss whether or not there is an afterlife and whether or not they will meet again, Amelia decides that the trees are the souls of the dead they loved. That was the moment, the book and I parted permanent company. I guess, in spite of that, there are those that truly love the book, perhaps for its attention to history, so I gave it three stars with the benefit of the doubt. Maybe it is me, as a Jew and a Conservative finding fault where, perhaps, there is none.