on January 30, 2004
I read this book "Child of My Heart" twice in one week.
I loved the characters. The Moran Children, Flora and mostly I loved Daisy. I wanted Daisy to be saved and was saddened by "we lost Daisy in March."
When Teresa, Daisy and Flora decorated the tree with lollipops I was visualizing it. When they were on the beach I felt I was there with them. I was with them every minute.
I did not understand why Teresa had this sexual encounter with the painter. If she was a young and beautiful girl, she could have had an encounter with a young and handsome boy near her own age. I decided that she was impressed with his reputation as a painter and a lover.
Teresa was only 15 years old and a 15 year old looks at situations differently than a mature person. She had no idea how serious the situation was with Daisy's health.
I read "Charming Billy" and did not like it. So you see we are all different.
I cannot wait until Alice McDermott writes another book. Maybe she will write one about a grown up Teresa and the Moran Children.
on January 4, 2004
This is a novel about a 15 year old girl who invites her "poor" 8 year old cousin to her house on the east end of Long Island, so she can spend the summer. Theresa, the heroine, is a lonely beautiful girl, daughter of hard working parents who are not as rich as their summer neighbors. To make money, and get noticed by the right people, Theresa babysits, walks dogs, etc. This is not a coming of age story, it is a reminiscience of a brief moment in time.
THe good thing about this book is the writing. Much of it is lyrical and beautiful, and flows from page to page. But hte plot of the book leaves much to be desired. Things happen, but they are vague and underplayed. I assume this was done on purpose, but it doesn't work for me. It just makes everything that happens unimportant- days meld together. And the character development is weak, as the main character is weak. Theresa NEVER hangs out with anyone her own age. For a girl who is supposed to be so beautiful, no one between the ages of 11 and 35 ever approaches her. There are no girls from school calling, no trips to the ice cream shop, etc. It is just weird. All the adults we come across are strange as well- nasty socialite women, leering older men, the drunken next door neighbor, uncaring parents, including Theresa's own parents, who don't seem to care too much about what she's up to, or if she's happy.
Because of the time frame of this book, we never see Thersa grow, or change, which leads me to the question- what was the point of this book?
on August 17, 2003
This is a difficult book to appraise. My reaction is based on the affection I have for the characters, especially the girls Theresa is nurturing the summer this story takes place during. There is something lonely and unsettled about Theresa's life and about her charges Daisy and Flora. Parents and adults in this book are not very imaginative or involved but are not dilikeable either. The novel is really about loss and the beautiful frailty of remembered moments. McDermott is a stunning writer.
Many other readers took offense to the 'creepy' relationship between the artist father of Flora (who seems very Picasso-like to me) and Theresa but I felt there was a certain reality to it. Beautiful young women, which is precisely what Theresa is becoming, are often drawn to old men with talent. It is a fact of the world. His sexuality must be potent for he is still a man who commands several women in his life. As inexplicable as it may seem to some of us, it does happen. Theresa almost behaves in a dreamlike maner around him, perhaps a form of rebellion against the cautious dreams her parents have formed on her behalf.
A book I would recommend to anyone who likes a nostalgic, yet not sugary coming-of-age novel.
on July 18, 2003
I heard Alice McDermott on the radio, promoting her book on NPR and I was instantly captivated by her elegant comments. She read the second paragraph of the book and the next thing I know I was rushing to the bookshop to buy it. It was very easy to get attached to the book right from the first page. The lightness of the narration is enchanting and was addictive for some time, but soon it became boring when I realized that the story was not going anywhere. After I lost my enthusiasm, I left the book aside for a few months and sort of just finished recently just to get rid of it. The sexual involvement of Theresa with a 70-year old drunk and womanizer artist was profoundly disturbing to me and kind of out of context. It made me regret reaching the end of the book. I really would like to ask the author the reason behind this passage. Also, Theresa's irresponsibility of knowing that Daisy was sick and not taking any action did not gain my sympathy either. Although I was not fond of the book itself, McDermott has a charismatic way of writing and I certainly plan to read her other books.
on June 9, 2003
I, automatically, read any book that Alice McDermott writes. I began with "That Night" and have progressed through "At Weddings and Wakes" and into "Charming Billy." In each instance it was a joy to watch her writing style mature and blossom--with each book better than the one before. That string was broken with "Child of My Heart." I am glad that all of the neighbors find Theresa to be such an endearing caretaker for their children and household pets. I found her interesting at the beginning. But as it became clear that she was to end up being seduced by the 70-year old painter father of one of her charges, I really lost interest. I had given her more credit--and the author had led me to believe that I should--than to be taken in by this drunken, aspirin-popping seducer of everyone. Maybe there is something in this novel that I don't get--but I finished it more to get it out of the way and to move on than for any other reason. I felt disappointment at the end and can only hope that Ms. McDermott will regain her stride soon.
on May 20, 2003
I have a feeling this book was the author's first - before
the brilliant "Charming Billy," which I adored, and which
inspired me with the book I'm writing about my family.
"Child" feels precious and self-congratulatory...the story of
her own life as a cutesy adolescent loved by one and all in
her little fishing village. Frankly, I found it too dull to finish,
which shocked me. I expected to devour it, as I had
As someone below has noted, the "wrong" note here is
that there is no pre-teen or teenager on earth who just
loves all little children. Pre-teens and teenagers are
blessedly self-centered and even if they get a kick out of
kids they resent having to babysit more than an hour at
a time, having to give anyone but themselves more than
an hour of intense attention. Anyone who understands
children knows that. So - Theresa - saintly little caretaker? No way!!!
I know this is going to sound strange to some, but I think
any kid like that would be a little sick in real life. Perhaps
the kind who is anorexic or bulimic, rebelling against having
to be perfect.
My feeling is that this book is how the author remembers
her youth, and it's too sugary for words, literally. Had she
written it as a memoir, in fact....it would have been
more gutsy, and she wouldn't have been allowed the
on May 7, 2003
A simple story told from a 15-year-oldï¿½s point of view. The teenager in question is Theresa, a beautiful girl beloved by animals and children alike. Amazingly perspicacious for a teen, Theresa takes us through a summer on Long Island where she cares for her younger cousin, Daisy, the daughter of a semi-famous painter, Flora, and a host of other neighborhood kids and animals.
Overall, Child of My Heart seemed more a series of observations and daily happenings than a plotted story. Yet it was oddly compelling, perhaps because McDermott is such a gifted writer. But I did have some problems with Theresaï¿½s character: even though she seemed so beyond her years in many respects, she was still very childlike ï¿½ she had no friends her age (only younger) and expressed no interest in boys (save for her creepy relationship with the geriatric painter). And that relationship was rather inexplicable ï¿½ she never expresses any sexual longing or attraction to this man, but still she gets naked with the old geezer (yuck!), despite being keenly aware of her beauty and that she could probably have any man she wanted. I guess I just felt like something was missing here, but Iï¿½m not sure what.
on May 1, 2003
I'd add a half star if the ratings permitted. This is an odd book from McDermott. Although all the characters are quite vivid and the mood of an endless summer virtuously spent is so well evoked, Theresa, this pied piper of a main character, is exasperatingly sweet-tempered and altruistic. The narration brims with details aimed at showing what a selfless and thoughtful caretaker Theresa is, and since it's told from the first person, the result is a self-congratulatory air.
The sexual attraction between two characters almost 60 years apart in age could have been intriguing, but it was too downplayed and understated to arouse much passion in the reader.
And there were other curiosities: Why didn't Theresa's parents notice signs of illness in their niece, even if Theresa was reluctant to report them? Why, in fact, were Theresa's parents so little rendered?
Great characterizations, but they skimmed the surface without, at least for me, suggesting strongly enough what was beneath that surface.
on March 26, 2003
Theresa, the protagonist of "Child of My Heart" is an "Old Soul," one of those young people who have knowledge of life and of the world far beyond their years. In many cultures, Theresa would be considered a sage or a seer.
What she is though is a 15-year-old teen who naturally falls into the caring of other people's children. As she says: "Because I was a child myself when I began to take care of other children, I saw them from the start as only a part of my realm, and saw my ascendance as a simple matter of hierarchy---I was the oldest among them, and as such, I would naturally be worshipped and glorified. I really thought no more of it than that...I was Tatiana among her fairies." Theresa's journey through this novel involves mostly baby steps as she goes about her business of caring for the children and pets of the rich. She is a kind of Peter Pan: young enough for her young wards to relate to; but not too old for them to be afraid of.
Theresa's parents have big dreams for her as they have made sacrifices so that she can live among the wealthy of the Long Island seashore: "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 brighter world of wealthy people and supposed geniuses if I did not at some point recognize that they were not. That the best assurance 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 belonged." It's ironic that these ideas still exist today for they call to mind the worlds of Edith Wharton and Henry James, over 100 years ago: that a young girl can change and should aspire to improve her social status by marrying money or genius or better, both.
One of the pleasures of this novel is McDermott's lucid and telling descriptions of Theresa's neighbors: "Mrs. Richardson was one of those blunt, loud, bangs-across-the-forehead women who seemed to believe that everyone else must surely be as pleased with her as she was with herself for being so no-nonsense and direct and, as she saw it, egalitarian." McDermott's prose is so rich with the experience of living that we almost immediately think of someone in our own lives that could be described in a like manner.
"Child of My Heart" is a gentle, beautifully written and persuasively aware book that's inhabited by characters and situations that calmly though persistently tug at the heartstrings. Though its heroine is a teenager, it is written from an adult's perspective in the mature and loving style of fondly recalled memory.
on March 17, 2003
The narrator is Theresa, and her story recounts events of a summer long ago when she was fifteen and her little cousin Daisy came to visit. Most of the action takes place among the mansions of Long Island, where Theresa with Daisy in tow walks dogs and babysits, trying with heart and soul to protect the innocents who fall to her care. Dogs love her. Children love her. Men love her, too: she's gorgeous. And what she's up against as she tries to defend her little kingdom includes adults, corruption, disappointment, and-we are told from early on-death. The characters include a famous seventy-year-old artist, who, like Theresa, wants to remake the world to his own liking; her dear but remote parents; a houseful of neglected children, including a little boy whose gifts go wrong in heartbreaking fashion; a great many wonderful dogs; and little Daisy herself, who when asked if she's afraid of heights replies "I'm only afraid of falling." We learn more about Theresa than she comes out and tells us. For one thing, while she wants to create a world like that of "Midsummer Night's Dream," she knows all along that her own is closer to "Macbeth." Certain imagines stick with you: an abandoned baby in a potato field, a toddler suspended underwater in the ocean, a tree covered with candy, a lonely girl lying in bed with tears running down into her ears, and three baby rabbits, like the children of this book, unformed and doomed. McDermott is brilliant about children and about the moment that ends a childhood. You won't find a writer who writes more brilliantly about love and caring, about beauty, or about loss. A gorgeous, shattering book: not just one of the best of the year, one of the best in the language.