The Atlantic's May short story

May 6, 1999

Mary Gordon

The novelist Mary Gordon writes often about women -- pious women, working women, artists, wives, adulterers, daughters, widows, and sisters. Considered in sum, her characters represent almost the entire range of female experience; considered individually, each is unique and always more complex than she initially seems. The nun in Gordon's current Atlantic short story, "The Deacon," for example, is an impatient woman who smokes cigarettes and watches videos with her girlfriends while puzzling out the ethical provisos of her faith. Like the nun (and Gordon herself), many of Gordon's characters are Catholic, which has led critics and reviewers frequently to observe that Gordon is a "Catholic writer." But Gordon feels that this is as misleading as calling John Updike a Protestant writer, and would rather have it said that she writes out of her experience -- as a woman, foremost, but also as a Catholic, the daughter of a Jew, a descendant of Irish immigrants, an art lover, and a literary critic.