Carey, Lisa 1970–

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Carey, Lisa 1970–

PERSONAL: Born 1970, in Boston, MA; married Timothy Spalding, 2003. Education: Boston College, B.A., 1992; Vermont College, M.F.A., 1996.

ADDRESSES: Home—Brookline, MA. Agent—c/o Author Mail, William Morrow, 10 E. 53rd St., 7th Fl., New York, NY 10022.

CAREER: Writer. Brookline Booksmith, Brookline, MA, former sales clerk; has been a resident at Tyrone Guthrie Centre, Annaghmakerrig, Ireland, and the MacDowell Colony, Peterborough, NH.

AWARDS, HONORS: Fellowship at Hawthornden Castle, Edinburgh, Scotland.



The Mermaids Singing, Avon (New York, NY), 1998.

In the Country of the Young, Morrow (New York, NY), 2000.

Love in the Asylum, Morrow (New York, NY), 2004.

Every Visible Thing, Morrow (New York, NY), 2006.

ADAPTATIONS: An abridged version of The Mermaids Singing was adapted for audio cassette, read by Jan Maxwell, Simon & Schuster Audio, 1998. The Mermaids Singing and In the Country of the Young have been optioned for film production.

SIDELIGHTS: Lisa Carey's first novel, The Mermaids Singing, brought her early critical recognition. Carey, who was only twenty-five when she wrote the book, worked on it while enrolled in the M.F.A. program at Vermont College. She lived in Boston during this period, working at the Brookline Booksmith just outside the city. This job taught the aspiring author some of the rudiments of publishing and gave her access to a great many books—she was known to read seven books a week during this time and has commented that she believes reading is crucial to her work as a writer.

The Mermaids Singing tells the story of three generations of Irish women from Inis Muruch (the Island of Mermaids): Cliona; her daughter, Grace; and Grace's daughter, Grainne. Cliona immigrates to the United States as a teenager in the 1950s, where she finds work and raises her daughter. Though Grace is born American, she returns to Inis Muruch in her teens. She finds it difficult, however, to fit in there and returns to America with her own daughter. When Grainne is fifteen, Grace dies and Cliona takes her granddaughter back to her ancestral home. Each woman is affected by the mythic pull of the island, where stories of mermaids suggest the doomed nature of love. Through repeating patterns, each generation deals with love, loss, culture, and family bonds.

Alev Adil, a reviewer for the Times Literary Supplement, felt the book is oversimplified in both theme and structure. "The echoes in the narrative are as deafening as the waves crashing on the craggy cliffs of Inish Muruch," wrote Adil. "The binarisms, repetitions and resolutions … are efficiently plotted and have no place for the messy equivocations and contradictions of characterization and emotional depth." A critic for Publishers Weekly deemed the effort an "impressive first novel" that skillfully handles several complex themes: mother-daughter relationships, issues of cultural identity, and spiritual displacement. Candace Horgan noted in the Denver Post that the book will move readers to tears: "Carey has written an intense, emotionally wrenching novel. Her prose is as musical as the Irish language."

Carey continued to mix fantasy and reality in her next two novels. Her second, In the Country of the Young, was inspired by a nightmare the author had while living in Ireland at a residency for artists that was allegedly haunted. The book is set on a fictional island off the coast of Maine. Many residents of the island have Irish roots, and Irish culture remains important there. One such person is a middle-aged artist named Oisin MacDara, who has seen ghosts for many years. Oisin hopes to see his twin sister, Nieve, who killed herself many years before, but instead connects with Aisling Quinn. She is the spirit of a child who died in 1840, when a ship from Ireland crashed off the coast of Tiranogue. She haunts his home, hoping to be allowed to be human again. Her wish comes true and she reaches maturity in one short year. The novel also explores the pasts of Oisin and Aisling, and the sibling bonds they both have lost. Calling In the Country of the Young "lusciously lyrical," a Publishers Weekly contributor wrote, "Crafting a backstory as vibrant and poignant as her primary narrative, Carey lovingly charts the unearthly relationship between suffering souls, carefully skirting simple saccharine solutions."

Carey's next novel also takes place in Maine. After learning that women from her great-grandmother's era could easily be sent to insane asylums for adultery or post-partum depression, she was inspired to write Love in the Asylum. A feminist novel primarily set in contemporary times at a high-end rehabilitation center in Maine, it tells of two patients, Alba Elliott and Oscar Jameson, who find a connection with each other. Alba is a children's writer who has repeatedly committed herself because she knows she is ill with manic depression and panic attacks. Afraid of taking medicine herself, she befriends Oscar, a recovering drug addict and alcoholic. At the center's library, Alba finds letters written by Mary Doherty from 1933 until her death in 1942. Though addressed to Mary's son, Peter, the letters never left the asylum. Mary was the daughter of a white mother and Native American father, and therefore a member of the New England-based Abenaki tribe. She was put in the asylum by her violent husband because of seizures, and was believed to be either a shaman healer or a schizophrenic. A critic in Kirkus Reviews commented: "The same questions infuse past and present stories … and Carey addresses them with intelligence and subtlety."



Denver Post, June 7, 1998, Candace Horgan, review of The Mermaids Singing.

Kirkus Reviews, January, 1, 2004, review of Love in the Asylum, p. 25.

Publishers Weekly, April 6, 1998, review of The Mermaids Singing, pp. 58-59; September 25, 2000, review of In the Country of the Young, p. 84.

Times Literary Supplement, July 3, 1998, Alev Adil, review of The Mermaids Singing, p. 21.

Women's Review of Books, July, 1998, Barbara Croft, review of The Mermaids Singing, p. 25.


Lisa Carey Home Page, (November 19, 2005).