PERSONAL: Married; children: two. Education: Graduate of Harvard University and the Iowa Writers' Workshop.
ADDRESSES: Home—Houston, TX. Office—Department of English, Rice University, MS-30, 6100 Main St., Houston, TX 77005. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Writer. La Salle University, Philadelphia, PA, associate professor of English; Rice University, Houston, TX, associate professor of English.
AWARDS, HONORS: National Novella Award, Arts and Humanities Council of Tulsa, 1990, for A Short History of the Long Ball; Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award for First Fiction, 2002, and Stephen Crane Prize, both for Mary and O'Neil; Whiting Writer's Award; National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, Pew fellowship in the arts; Baxter Hathaway prize in fiction; Individual Artist's fellowship, Pennsylvania Council on the Arts.
A Short History of the Long Ball (novella), Council Oak Books (Tulsa, OK), 1990.
Mary and O'Neil (novel), Dial Press (New York, NY), 2001.
The Summer Guest (novel), Dial Press (New York, NY), 2004.
Contributor of short stories, essays, and other writings to periodicals, including Food and Wine, Five Points, Gulf Coast, Epoch, Salamander, Philadelphia Inquirer, Boston Globe, and the Washington Post. Contributor of an essay, "Dead Man," to The Eleventh Draft, edited by Frank Conroy, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2000. Work published in England, France, Italy, Sweden, and the Netherlands.
SIDELIGHTS: Justin Cronin's first book, A Short History of the Long Ball, is the story of two childhood friends, Jake and Donny, one good, one bad. Told from Jake's perspective, the book recounts his own rather conventional life as a journalist and father, contrasted with Donny's slide into heroin addiction and his ultimately painful recovery. The book won the National Novella Award of the Arts and Humanities Council of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Joyce M. Latham wrote in the Library Journal that "the prose is comfortable and the construction artful." A Kirkus Reviews contributor concluded it is "a lyrical ode to small pleasures."
A decade later, Cronin published Mary and O'Neil, a "novel in stories." "Delicate, dreamy and yet grounded in a crystalline world of the real, 'Mary and O'Neil' offers many pleasures to its readers, not least the melancholic sense of the ways an early loss reverberates throughout even a happy life," wrote Sylvia Brown-rigg in the New York Times Book Review. That early loss concerns O'Neil's parents, who die in the first story. "Playing out variations on the theme of the inability of parents and children to truly know one another, Cronin is capable of creating fresh poignancy," commented a Publishers Weekly reviewer. Other stories concern Mary's decision to abort an early pregnancy, O'Neil's and his sister Kay's struggles to cope with the loss of their parents, and Kay's own struggles with cancer. Some stories are happier, including the meeting and subsequent marriage of Mary and O'Neil. Ann Patchett, in Chicago's Tribune Books, commended Cronin's development of minor characters, such as O'Neil's first love, the au pair who helps Kay's family through her bout with cancer, and an old roommate of Mary's. "There is a real generosity in a writer who takes his minor characters as seriously as he takes the major ones," she wrote.
Writing in Book, Beth Kephart noted that much of the action, such as it is, occurs offstage, and that "the revelations are summarized, made retrospective." Kephart added: "In their stead are elegant passages about everyday life, the vital ways in which we can and must care for one another's souls." While criticizing the book for relying on "the utilization of worn-out ideas" like fidelity, maturation, and cancer, Booklist contributor Jeff Snowbarger noted that "Cronin's use of language, when crisp and inventive, allows the characters a freedom to develop within the tired concepts." In a different way, Patchett also noted this use of language in providing deep emotional resonance "while working with what appears to be little material." "So how does a story about average people leading average lives turn into such a good book?" she asked. "It is the writing, pure and simple."
In his novel The Summer Guest, Cronin builds his story around Harry Wainwright, a responsible corporate leader whose life intermeshes with the Crosby family. Harry is dying and goes to the Crosby's Maine camp, which he has just bought, to go fishing. Harry had been to the camp decades earlier and had an affair with Joe Crosby's girlfriend and now wife, who was helping Joe's father look after the camp while Joe was off fighting in Vietnam. Despite this past link, the individual stories of each character, which unfold through various characters' perspectives, reveal Harry in a good light as he acts benevolently towards the Crosby family and past transgressions are forgiven. Noting that the novel "is well executed," a Kirkus Reviews contributor also wrote: "The characters are as good as their intentions, and the evils that intrude are the impersonal plagues of war and disease." Writing in Booklist, Allison Block noted that the novel "reveals … the tender terrain of the human heart." Writing in Publishers Weekly, a reviewer commented that "the novel's recognition of human frailty and nobility rings true, as does its faithful recreation of a place outside the storms of history."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Book, March, 2001, Beth Kephart, review of Mary and O'Neil, p. 80.
Booklist, January 1, 2001, Jeff Snowbarger, review of Mary and O'Neil, p. 914; June 1, 2004, Allison Block, review of The Summer Guest, p. 1699.
Boston Globe, July 28, 2004, Carol Iaciofano, review of The Summer Guest.
Commonweal, June 14, 2002, Catherine Tumber, review of Mary and O'Neil, p. 22.
Houston Chronicle, July 16, 2004, Barbara Liss, review of The Summer Guest.
Kirkus Reviews, April 1, 1990, review of A Short History of the Long Ball, p. 448; May 1, 2004, review of The Summer Guest, p. 409.
Library Journal, May 15, 1990, Joyce M. Latham, review of A Short History of the Long Ball, p. 93; January 1, 2001, Beth E. Andersen, review of Mary and O'Neil, p. 152; August, 2004, Christopher J. Korenowsky, review of The Summer Guest, p. 66.
New York Times Book Review, February 18, 2001, Sylvia Brownrigg, "From Cradle to Grave," p. 14; August 29, 2004, Emily Barton, review of The Summer Guest.
Publishers Weekly, April 6, 1990, Sybil Steinberg, review of A Short History of the Long Ball, p. 10; December 11, 2000, review of Mary and O'Neil, p. 63; May 10, 2004, review of The Summer Guest, p. 33.
San Francisco Chronicle, July 4, 2004, Malena Watrous, review of The Summer Guest, p. M-3.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), January 28, 2001, Ann Patchett, "Just Plain Folks," p. 2.
Washington Post, August 22, 2004, Lizzie Skurnick, review of The Summer Guest, p. BW04.
BookReporter.com, http://www.bookreporter.com/ (April 27, 2006), Jana Siciliano, review of Mary and O'Neil; Marie Hashima Lofton, review of The Summer Guest.
Decatur Daily Web site, http://www.decaturdaily.com/ (April 27, 2006), Derek Thacker, review of The Summer Guest.
Justin Cronin Home Page, http://www.justincronin.com (April 28, 2006).
Rice University Web site, http://www.ruf.rice.edu/ (April 27, 2006), faculty profile of author.