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Ocean State

stories by Jean McGarry

Publication Year: 2010

The stories of Ocean State roll over the reader like a wave. Family pleasures, marriage, the essential moments and mysteries of a seemingly ordinary world that break into magical territory before we can brace ourselves—Jean McGarry puts us in life’s rough seas with what the New York Times has called a “deft, comic, and devastatingly precise” hand. Praise for Jean McGarry "A gifted observer, records with fidelity the daily minutiae of life and introspection."—Publishers Weekly "Ms. McGarry's stories have the feel of paintings by Edward Hopper. Her characters are solitudinous and lonely, rarely funny, but they often carry with them, even in their defeat, a certain dignity. She is a writer who honors the human condition."—Baltimore Sun "McGarry's thickly layered prose, with its stunning emotional accuracies, is always just on the verge of exploding into dream or fantasy."—Women's Review of Books "At her best, McGarry illuminates our quirky, flawed selves and neighbors, and makes us nod even as we sigh."—Providence Journal "McGarry's prose is fresh, her plots unpredictable, and her dialogue shimmeringly wry . . . Reading McGarry's stories is to be surprised and delighted."—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Series: Johns Hopkins: Poetry and Fiction


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pp. vii


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Family Happiness

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pp. 3-29

When Donna was first married, her mother collected linens and kitchen tools enough for three houses, and where was Donna moving with her blond husband, a contractor, but a third-floor tenement on Regent Avenue. When it became available in May, Dolly was in that flat from dawn to dusk, papering and painting, laying linoleum and scrubbing woodwork. Dolly was sewing Donna’s going-away outfit, a navy suit with flared skirt and two changes of blouse: flowered and solid....

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The Sweetness of Her Name

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pp. 30-41

They moved into Silver Glade with a brand new baby, unnamed, although the grandparents had it registered for high school as Clementine Wrentham Farmer. Wrentham was their name and Farmer was the name their daughter, Lina, used when writing the check for the house. Her professional name, to their joy, was still Lina Rose Wrentham. The baby had been born in a water bath at Doctors’ Hospital on the day projected for its birth....

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The Tree of Life

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pp. 42-54

He was saving his suit for just this day. He’d bought it from a men’s tailor shop, now out of business. Gray and lightweight, with pockets still sewn down, it fitted his long limbs as if made yesterday to measure. No American suits were constructed in this material anymore, as few desired such a sheen even in a summer suit....


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pp. 57-76

The first patient of the day was eight-year-old Isabel. Isabel brought her doll, which sat in the chair opposite his. The patient sat against the wall and told him he could look at her if he took off his glasses or looked with one eye. The doll, made of cloth, with a head but no face, was a blabbermouth, and Isabel asked him to slap her face, and if he didn’t, she’d slap his. Why would you slap my face? he asked. Because I want to, she’d say, and with that, the ritual greeting was accomplished....

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Gold Leaf

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pp. 77-89

He wanted to buy himself a present. He had enough stuff in his house for four houses, but what he had wasn’t what he wanted. What he wanted (never before of any great importance) was becoming clear. Animal, mineral, or plant? He didn’t want something alive, even if the life were minimal, like a cactus that needed water once or twice a year, or drank what it needed from a muggy August day....

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A Full House

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pp. 90-105

The doctor had written five letters to his daughter. They were sealed, but not stamped. They were scattered, not hidden inside his house, a manse dusty with old carpets, bronzes, and pictures. Her mother had died there, lying on the sofa watching cartoons. She wanted to live, but when the oncologists had done what they could do, she was weaned off intravenous platins and left to starve on tablets of morphine. One of the letters was stuffed between the chintz cushions of the sofa....


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The Wedding Gowns

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pp. 109-125

It was too late to order one, but Greg told Mary that a real marriage was better off starting at zero. “We’re having a wedding,” she said. “Is that zero?” “We’re having a wedding, yes,” he said, “but there are no bridesmaids, and the cake is organic.” Mary had forgotten about the cake with its collection of indigestible grains and grasses, uncured sugars and free from color, too, even the color white. Organic was never white; it was always brown, gray, tan, gray-green. Even the fruit was flawed and grim....

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Family Romance

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pp. 126-135

Veena woke in the dark to plan her fiftieth birthday. Her father wouldn’t be around for very long and he’d enjoy something set aside for his child ballerina. Her shoes hung by their ribbons in his bedroom, in different sizes, pink, white, black, and midnight blue. There were posters, programs, and newspaper write-ups mounted in numbered albums. A birthday party in pinks and grays with cake and ice cream for just the two of them would suit to a T. Veena struggled to breathe the night air all flowery and dusty with springtime effluvia....

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The Offering

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pp. 136-150

Don and Terry Adams leapt out of bed every morning, glad to be alive. They had clothes that fitted them, beautifully behaved children, and a four-bedroom house with twenty-four windows. Only the back wall was faceless, the part that fed into the garage and onto the concrete pad that Don called the patio and Terry the terrace. Daughter June called it the skating rink, and son Matt said it was far too small to deserve a name....


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Dream Date

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pp. 153-172

In our family, the word “outsider” meant neighbors, friends, in-laws, and even my aunt’s family who lived up in New York State, a hundred miles away. Outsiders were cars that drove around our corner too fast, and our grandmother, who boarded with us, and sat for dinner at her own table by the window. When my sister started dating, she was one and, when I went to college, I was two....

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Welcome Wherever He Went

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pp. 173-191

Mr. Saintsbury was only five years old when his Uncle Mike gave him ten dollars to paint the cellar walls apple green. The kid could only reach yay high, so the green apples were overhung with that misty blue that Aunt Alice ordered for each room she had reason to enter. Misty blue or misty violet was so close to her heart that even her underclothes—slips and dirndls, petticoats and skivvies—were bathed in Rit dye before they were even washed. Uncle picked up a can of pre-mixed glossy at Benny’s with a brush sized for a child hand....

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The Night Before

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pp. 192-201

Tomorrow was the first day of elegance. The husband-to-be was blondish, shy, rumored to have a little money in the bank. She was to be propelled from the cluttery house of her mother and unmarried sister into open bridal spaces. He seemed alone and waiting for nothing more than her....

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Ocean State

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pp. 202-214

When he saw what his wife had turned into, he wanted to kill her, or at least bring her down a peg. She had ways and ways within ways, and there wasn’t an honest bone in her body. She changed, too: every year she was different, with novelties and odd ways of holding her head and crinkling up her face into that year’s smile. All he could do was watch and wait. It would take all of a year for him to catch up, and what else did he have to do with his time but watch and wait....


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pp. 215-216

E-ISBN-13: 9780801899539
E-ISBN-10: 0801899532
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801896583
Print-ISBN-10: 0801896584

Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: Johns Hopkins: Poetry and Fiction

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Subject Headings

  • Rhode Island -- Social life and customs -- Fiction.
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