Monkey Bay



The Playhouse
McGraw-Hill, 1880

Set among Irish-Americans living in a blue-collar community just outside Boston during the 1960s, The Playhouse is a bittersweet story about ordinary lives and about one woman’s coming of age. The story opens as young Maureen Mullen accepts employment as a nurse in the home of Charlie O’Clair, a successful, politically ambitious lawyer in his forties who is unaware that he has incurable cancer. They become lovers. Pregnant by Charlie, Maureen lets happen an engagement and marriage to the “boy downstairs,” whom she has known since childhood. As these events unfold, it becomes clear that the central question is whether she will come to terms with the loss of Charlie in time to prevent her marriage from atrophying through her distraction and unspoken mourning. Written in a crisp, laconic style, this acclaimed first novel affords an unsentimental yet powerfully affecting vision of the drama and dignity inherent in “unremarkable” lives.

Praise and Reviews

New York Times Notable Book of the Year, 1980

This little gem of a first novel lingers in the memory long after the last page has been turned…Maureen is a realistic character, almost invincibly innocent, given to wry humor and a laconic self-analysis that has the ring of truth. For author Ford, a librarian in Somerville, Mass., the evocation of life as it is for the working class in Boston’s “three deckers” is a triumph.
Publishers Weekly

Ordinary lives—but Ford’s shrewd, selective eye for the life around Porter Square lifts it all above the mundane; and Maureen’s musings…are kept sharp and spare, so that the births and deaths and helpless choices can mostly speak for themselves. A modest, unforced, truly grounded and quite fine first novel.
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

The tension in Elaine Ford’s frugally constructed first novel lies in the precise rendering of the heroine’s determination to expand her reality, to break out of the old trap of self. A crack in the pavement, an abandoned playhouse, a facial expression, a simple conversational exchange, is focused on until it gives up its secret about Maureen Mullen, the orphaned daughter of an Irish-American family from a blue-collar community outside Boston. Maureen’s struggle for meaning in her life, for her very sanity, is methodically unveiled in this slim novel, and as it is, the reader grows confident that every incident has a vital reason for occurring at exactly the time and place the author has set it.
New York Times