Cooney, Ellen 1952-
COONEY, Ellen 1952-
PERSONAL: Born August 20, 1952, in Clinton, MA. Education: Worcester State College, B.A., 1976; Clark University, M.A., 1978.
Small-Town Girl (young adult), Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1983.
All the Way Home, Putnam (New York, NY), 1984.
The Old Ballerina, Coffee House Press (Minneapolis, MN), 1999.
The White Palazzo, Coffee House Press (Minneapolis, MN), 2002.
Gun Ball Hill, University Press of New England (Lebanon, NH), 2004.
Contributor to periodicals, including the New Yorker, Glimmer Train, Fiction, Epoch, Ontario Review, Story, and Literary Review.
SIDELIGHTS: Ellen Cooney's first book is her young-adult novel, Small-Town Girl. The story begins in 1961 when Collie Dutton forms a friendship with Catholic-school classmate Ruthanne Bent. National anxiety over nuclear weapons is high, and Ruthanne's father is building a bomb shelter. Ruthanne assures Collie that she and her sister are guaranteed safety if and when such a threat occurs, but then their friendship becomes unstable when Ruthanne's father suspects Collie's father of Communist sympathies.
Collie takes revenge on Mr. Bent, playing a trick that leaves her guilt-ridden. Central to the story is her deeply imbedded fear of a nuclear bomb, her desire to become a writer, and her feelings about a first love who tries to seduce her. Cooney follows her protagonist to 1968, as Collie is about to go off to college. School Library Journal's David Gale called Collie "a thoroughly original yet totally recognizable and completely enjoyable character."
"This remarkably talented author writes in a refined, understated prose," wrote New York Times Book Review contributor Marilyn Kaye, "that captures the spontaneity of adolescent dialogue in an eloquent, often brilliant narrative."
All the Way Home is an adult novel about the women of Curry's Crossing, a small, depressed Massachusetts town to which Gussie Cabrini, a former professional softball player, has returned after a devastating motorcycle accident. Gussie pulls together a team of women who are of all ages and fitness levels and coaches them toward the big game with the Hartford Belles. Gussie's closest friend on the Spurs is Evelyn Brody, who overcomes her depression over the deaths of her parents by being part of the team. Other women also find the experience healing. An overweight Avis Poli slims down, finds renewed sensuality in middle age, and becomes a mother figure for Gussie. Sandy Dorn and her young son, both abused at the hands of Sandy's husband, are supported by Gussie and the other team members, and the lives of other team members and female relatives are similarly improved.
A Publishers Weekly writer felt that the character of Sandy could have gotten more attention, but added that "all told, however, there is heart and verve in this closely observed and closely written tale." Jill Grossman, who reviewed the novel in the New York Times Book Review, commented that because the outcome of the big game is never in question, "suspense is minimal," but added that the dialogue "has a believable ring, and Miss Cooney has a nice feel for the psychology of women." Library Journal's Marion Hanscom praised the characters of All the Way Home, "women who, in their love and eagerness to support each other … accomplish a small miracle."
A Publishers Weekly contributor called Cooney's The Old Ballerina "a valentine to the transformative power of art." The ballerina is Irene Kamsky, who has grown old and suffers from arthritis, and who now teaches in her suburban home. Other characters include Margaret Dunlap, her personal assistant, and Lisette, the young woman Irene trained to become a noted ballerina until injuries forced her to also become a teacher. The current class is comprised of teen boys, some of whom are problem students. Eventually, they learn to love the dance, and their enthusiasm rekindles Irene's own. "Feisty, eccentric, and independent, Kamsky is an inspiring protagonist," wrote Ellen R. Cohen in Library Journal.
The White Palazzo was described as "fresh and engaging" by Booklist's Whitney Scott. In this story, set in Massachusetts, Cooney offers a tale about Tara Barlow, a young woman whose elaborate wedding plans go up in smoke when the beautiful, old White Cliffs restaurant burns to the ground four months before the event. Tara, realizing that it was the wedding she wanted, not necessarily the marriage, leaves town in her Mustang, heading west.
Fifty-three-year-old psychic Guida Santucci is hired by the family to track down Tara, who, in fact, hasn't even left the state, and when they meet, the women experience a mutual attraction. A Publishers Weekly writer felt that "though not everyone will go for Cooney's stylized case of eccentrics, the affair between Guida and Tara is sweetly rendered and their dizzy interior lives possess a whimsical charm."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, September 15, 2002, Whitney Scott, review of The White Palazzo, p. 206.
Horn Book, October, 1983, Ethel R. Twichell, review of Small-Town Girl, pp. 579-580.
Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 1984, review of All the Way Home, p. 263.
Library Journal, May 1, 1984, Marion Hanscom, review of All the Way Home, p. 913; September 1, 1999, Ellen R. Cohen, review of The Old Ballerina, p. 232.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, June 8, 1984, Art Seidenbaum, review of All the Way Home, p. 25.
Ms., May, 1984, Judith Wynn, review of All the Way Home, p. 31.
New York Times Book Review, June 19, 1983, Marilyn Kaye, review of Small-Town Girl, p. 26; June 24, 1984, Jill Grossman, review of All the Way Home, p. 22.
Publishers Weekly, March 23, 1984, review of All the Way Home, p. 67; August 9, 1999, review of The Old Ballerina, p. 344; August 5, 2002, review of The White Palazzo, p. 52.
School Library Journal, September, 1983, David Gale, review of Small-Town Girl, p. 131.
Voice of Youth Advocates, October, 1983, Elaine Martindell, review of Small-Town Girl, pp. 198-199.