Gross, Gwendolen 1967–
Gross, Gwendolen 1967–
Born 1967, in Newton, MA; married Joshua Rosenburg; children: Jacob. Education: Oberlin College, B.A., 1989; Sarah Lawrence College, M.F.A.
Poet and novelist. Has worked in publishing, and has performed with the San Diego Opera Chorus.
Adrienne Lee Award, 1999, for a poem published in Hubbub.
The Other Mother: A Novel, Shaye Areheart Books (New York, NY), 2007.
Also contributor of poems and stories in literary magazines, including Salt Hill Journal, Global City Review, Prism International, Laurel Review, and Hubbub.
Gwendolen Gross was a woman of wide interests while she attended Oberlin College. She studied voice performance and science writing and joined a field studies program in Australia for a semester to study the spectacled fruit bat found in the rainforest of northern Queensland. This experience informs her debut novel, Field Guide. The central character in the novel goes to Australia to do the same thing, though at a different point in life.
In Field Guide, twenty-eight-year-old Annabel Mendelssohn is haunted by the ambiguous circumstances of her brother's death, a drowning that may have been accidental or a suicide. Annabel is a scientist like her brother, explained Joanna Smith Rakoff in her online review of the book in Oberlin, who goes to Australia to experience "what her brother had called the real work: the field, putting her hands on life." But the reality does not quite meet her expectations: she is bored by the class work and put off by her fellow students, "who flirt, gossip, and break off into cliques." In e-mailed reports to her stateside sister Alice, Annabel details the offenses of the students, especially her roommate Sabrina, whom she terms "a monster of vanity." Annabel's combination of disinterest in and inability to play the games her fellow students do makes her long for escape. That comes in the form of solo field work in the rainforest.
Out in the field, while studying the much-preferred social behaviors of spectacled fruit bats, she "develops a crush on Professor John Goode," explained Rakoff, "in no small part because his genius and recklessness remind her of [her brother] Robert." The fiftyish professor is going through a painful divorce as the result of his first extramarital affair. When he disappears into the bush without a trace, some time elapses before his students become concerned. Goode's son Leon, who has given up the Harvard research that resembled his father's work and found work in a Boston museum, drops his job to return to Australia and search for his missing father. Along the way he encounters Annabel, whose own research is at a lull; the two join forces to find Goode's trail. Rakoff commented that the "researchers grate on each other's nerves," but their common goal and their common grief bring them together.
Reviewers were impressed and delighted with Gross's novel. Rakoff described Annabel as the character "who carries the book with her eccentricities, frustration, and heightened self-awareness. She's a stunning, difficult character—a grown-up, 21st century Anne of Green Gables." A Publishers Weekly contributor was also impressed: "Gross's deceptively spare style glistens with pungent language and precise apercus. Annabel's keenly observed evocation of the fecund rain forest is counterpointed by her wry insights about herself and her family." In Booklist, Connie Fletcher summed up Field Guide by saying: "The way Annabel deals with grief, through her careful scientific scrutiny and through her search for a dissolute professor lost in the rain forest, is both credible and inspiring." "Gross has an amazing ability to convey the subtlest emotional shifts," concluded a Kirkus Reviews contributor. The reviewer stated, "her novel thrums with psychological intensity, and there's no shortage of acerbic wit…. Stunning. A remarkable debut."
Gross's The Other Mother: A Novel explores a conflict that is painfully real for many modern women: the question of whether to pursue a career or to devote herself to her children. Gross's third novel pits two neighbors, New Jersey suburbanite Thea and newly arrived NYC book editor Amanda, against one another in a conflict of cultures. "Although Amanda senses Thea's disapproval of her decision to return to work as a book editor, desperation drives Amanda to hire Thea as a babysitter," explained a Kirkus Reviews contributor. "The women distrust each other," yet they feel a common bond at the same time. "Hostilities only escalate once Amanda's family is forced to move in with Thea's after their house is extensively damaged," explained Carol Haggas in Booklist, and things go from bad to worse when dead animals begin showing up on Thea's doorstep. "In the end, the raging battles gain a heightened macabre sense with the destruction of the World Trade Center in New York City," concluded Sue Donckels on the Web site WOW! Women on Writing. "With our nation's real war as the back drop, we see the women's conflicts in a different light, and we realize how they change and grow." "Gross," concluded a reviewer for Publishers Weekly, "shows the strife between" women who work primarily inside the home and women who work primarily outside the home "to be a lot more nuanced than it's often portrayed."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, February 15, 2001, Connie Fletcher, review of Field Guide, p. 1116; June 1, 2007, Carol Haggas, review of The Other Mother: A Novel, p. 41.
Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 2001, review of Field Guide, p. 129; June 15, 2007, review of The Other Mother.
Library Journal, June 15, 2007, Debbie Bogenschutz, review of The Other Mother, p. 56.
Publishers Weekly, February 19, 2001, review of Field Guide, p. 67; June 4, 2007, review of The Other Mother, p. 31.
USA Today, November 15, 2007, "Roundup: Mommy Lit," p. 4.
Cafemama.com,http://www.cafemama.com/ (March 18, 2008), review of The Other Mother.
Gwendolen Gross Home Page,http://gwendolengross.com (March 18, 2008).
Oberlin Web site,http://oberlin.edu/bookshelf/ (March 18, 2008), Joanna Smith Rakoff, review of Field Guide.
Other Mother Web site,http://www.the-other-mother.com (March 18, 2008).
Supernannyrules.com,http://www.supernannyrules.com/ (March 18, 2008), review of The Other Mother.
WOW! Women on Writing,http://www.wow-womenonwriting.com/ (March 18, 2008), Sue Donckels, review of The Other Mother.