Cody, Paul 1953-
CODY, Paul 1953-
PERSONAL: Born December 23, 1953, in Newton, MA; son of John E. (a clerk) and Margaret (a clerk; maiden name, Christie) Cody; married Elizabeth Holmes (an editor and poet), September 26, 1987; children: Liam Scott, Austin James. Education: University of Massachusetts, Boston, B.A. (magna cum laude), 1982; Cornell University, M.F.A., 1987. Politics: "Mostly Democrat." Religion: "Interested in Catholicism and Buddhism; practice neither." Hobbies and other interests: Journalism, sports, editing, and the study of history, crime, and mental illness.
ADDRESSES: Office—Department of Writing, Ithaca College, 953 Danby Rd., Ithaca, NY 14850. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Freelance writer, 1976–. Perkins School for the Blind, Watertown, MA, child-care worker, 1983–85; Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, lecturer in English, 1987–89; Cornell magazine, Ithaca, NY, associate editor and staff writer, 1991–96; Cornell University, visiting professor of writing, 1997; Ithaca College, Ithaca, NY, assistant professor of writing, 2004–.
AWARDS, HONORS: Arthur Lynn Andrews Award for best short fiction, Cornell University, 1986 and 1987; fiction writing grant, New York Foundation for the Arts, 1989; Wallace Stegner fellow, Stanford University, 1990 (declined).
The Stolen Child (novel), Baskerville (Dallas, TX), 1995.
Eyes like Mine (novel), Baskerville (Dallas, TX), 1996.
So Far Gone (novel), Picador (New York, NY), 1998.
Shooting the Heart (novel), Viking (New York, NY), 2004.
Contributor to numerous periodicals, including the Boston Globe, Harper's, Wind, and Quarterly.
WORK IN PROGRESS: A novel, The Thing He Did; research on Willard Asylum, a mental institution in upstate New York.
SIDELIGHTS: Paul Cody's first novel The Stolen Child is "horrifying and beautiful, sorrowful, measured, and truthful," wrote Bethany Clement in the San Francisco Review of Books. The story follows both the destinies of the title character—a youth who is kidnapped, later recovered, and institutionalized in his adult years as a result of the experience and the abuse that followed—and several other characters whose lives connected with and were changed by his ordeal. Cody explores the ways in which the child's mother and brother are troubled by the incident. The policeman who tried to trace the child's abductor and the waitress who unwittingly served the child and his kidnapper are also haunted by their memories. Clement concluded by calling Cody's book "impossibly and unexpectedly lovely."
Cody's second novel, Eyes like Mine, is also a portrait of a young life damaged by trauma. Protagonist Will Ross, a Boston-born working-class writer, begins at age thirty-seven to reevaluate his life. Will was placed in a mental institution in his immediate post-teen years because of an obsession with serial killers. During his twenties he was a vagrant, wandering the countryside trying to sort out his identity. By the time the story begins, Will—like Cody himself—has graduated from the writing program at Cornell University, is married, and is about to become a father. He tries to understand the means by which he got to his current place in life, and he tries to predict what will happen to him in the future. A Kirkus Reviews contributor called Cody a "rare" writer who is concerned with the large questions—love, life, death—that loom over life. The reviewer affirmed that Cody "has the talent to give those questions a rightful, elegant due."
In So Far Gone, published in 1998, Cody focuses on a character named Jack Connor, who awaits his fate on death row after killing his parents and grandmother. The reader follows Connor as he recalls his past, or at least his dreams of them. The author also provides the testimonies of various narrators as they try to explain Connor and the murders. "The cumulative effect of the juxtaposition between these outside voices and the voice of Jack, imprisoned within his tortured self, is stunning," noted a Publishers Weekly contributor. Meanwhile a female reporter tries to exploit Jack's story as the first modern-day person to be executed by his state. Stephen Binns, writing in the National Catholic Reporter noted that Cody "distinguishes himself by letting in a few shafts of light, showing that there was more compassion in this lonely soul's midst than he could have guessed and giving the murders and the execution something of the special regretfulness of tragedy."
Shooting the Heart, Cody's 2004 effort, tells the story of Earl Madden, a man who is abnormally interested in serial killers and begins to suspect that he may have killed his missing wife, fellow schoolteacher Joan. Interspersed with Madden's flashbacks as he lands in a mental institution are the stories of the infamous murderers who have captured his attention. Writing in Booklist, Michele Leber commented that it is the author's "consummate skill that he brings to his experience that makes this account … as astonishing as it is frightening." Kirkus Reviews contributor Noah Lukeman commented that the author "writes with an elegance and dignity that deserve recognition."
Cody told CA: "I've been writing since I was a child, I guess because I've always loved to read, and writing words on paper gave me the feeling that I could think about, shape, and in some sense influence my experience of the world by writing it down. And then in 1971–72, when I was eighteen years old, I became an alcoholic and drug addict. I spent seven years in and out of mental hospitals and detoxes, until I was finally taken by the police to Medfield State Hospital, southwest of Boston, in the summer of 1978. I was committed by a judge to thirty days in a locked ward and then spent a short time in a residential drug treatment program, where all the residents except me were there on pre-release status from state and federal prisons. I've been straight and sober, and writing steadily, since then.
"This has always been the single biggest influence on my work, and I'm probably drawn to my subjects—abducted and lost children, religious and drug-induced ecstasy, crime, marginality, insanity—because I'm trying on different levels to figure out why my life went so wrong and then so right. In a way, writing about darkness gives me the chance to visit the demons, and then find what I hope is light and redemption again and again. It's a way to participate in the mystery of life without going to church."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, April 1, 1996, Alice Joyce, review of Eyes like Mine, p. 1342; April 1, 2004, Michele Leber, review of Shooting the Heart, p. 1345.
Kirkus Reviews, January 15, 1996, review of Eyes like Mine, p. 84; March 1, 2004, Noah Lukeman, review of Shooting the Heart, p. 193.
Library Journal, January, 1998, Harold Augenbraum, review of So Far Gone, p. 138.
National Catholic Reporter, May 22, 1998, Stephen Binns, review of So Far Gone, p. 32.
Publishers Weekly, April 10, 1995, review of the The Stolen Child, p. 53; January 22, 1996, review of Eyes like Mine, p. 60; March 9, 1998, review of So Far Gone, p. 49; March 15, 2004, review of Shooting the Heart, p. 53.
San Francisco Review of Books, July/August, 1995, Bethany Clement, review of The Stolen Child, p. 4.
Department of Writing, Ithaca College Web site, http://www.ithaca.edu/hs/writing/faculty/Paul_Cody/cody.htm (October 14, 2005).