A Lazy Eye

James Marcus reviews Mary Morrissey's novel "A Lazy Eye".

Published July 9, 1996 7:00PM (EDT)

The Irish have always had a gift for depicting blighted lives, and Mary Morrissy, whose novel "Mother of Pearl" won a Lannan Foundation award in 1995, is right in the tradition. Even a quick scan through the stories in "A Lazy Eye" is enough to make you grateful for your own, comparatively unblighted existence.

In "Bookworm," a tightly-wound kleptomaniac makes a career of stealing books and shredding them to pieces in the privacy of her apartment. "Rosa" revolves around an unwanted pregnancy, and concludes with the baby being abandoned in a department store Christmas display: "When they dismantled the crib in the new year they would find the creature as dead and as frozen as the one originally placed there."

After a while this bleakness grows unrelenting, as if the author were out to prove that misery (to paraphrase Joyce) is general all over Ireland. But much of the time Morrissy compensates the reader with her prose, which is full of sensuous accuracy.

In the title story, for example, the lazy-eyed protagonist is forced to wear some low-tech corrective glasses "with the right lens patched over with sticking plaster." Morrissy does a marvelous job recording her apprehensions: "[The glasses] gave her a lopsided, partial view of the world--a huge, pinkish blur before her and a sensation of an obstruction looming ahead which was never encountered but yet never went away." What's more, the glasses do the job they're designed for, which in this context qualifies as a deliriously happy ending.

By James Marcus

James Marcus is a critic, translator and novelist living in Portland, Oregon. He is a regular contributor to Salon.

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