Mattison, Alice 1942-
Mattison, Alice 1942-
PERSONAL: Born March 18, 1942, in New York, NY; daughter of Julius (a court reporter) and Rose (a teacher; maiden name, Tarter) Eisenberg; married Edward Mattison; children: Jacob, Benjamin, Andrew. Education: Queens College of the City University of New York, B.A., 1962; Harvard University, A.M., 1963, Ph.D., 1968.
ADDRESSES: Home—New Haven, CT. Office—The Writing Seminars, Bennington College, Bennington, VT 05201.
CAREER: Mattatuck Community College, Waterbury, CT, instructor in English, 1967–68; Modesto Junior College, Modesto, CA, instructor in English, 1968–70; Albertus Magnus College, New Haven, CT, adjunct lecturer in English, beginning 1975; Bennington College, Bennington, VT, professor of writing seminars. Operates Anderson Street Writing Workshop; member of Alice James Poetry Cooperative, Inc. Member of Children's Cooperative Daycare, 1972–81.
AWARDS, HONORS: New York Times notable book citation, 1997, for Men Giving Money, Women Yelling: Intersecting Stories.
Animals (poems), Alice James Books (Cambridge, MA), 1980.
Great Wits (stories), Morrow (New York, NY), 1988.
Field of Stars (stories), Morrow (New York, NY),1992.
The Flight of Andy Burns (stories), Morrow (New York, NY), 1993.
Hilda and Pearl (novel), Morrow (New York, NY), 1995.
Men Giving Money, Women Yelling: Intersecting Stories, Morrow (New York, NY), 1997.
The Book Borrower (novel), Morrow (New York, NY), 1999.
The Wedding of the Two-Headed Woman (novel), Morrow (New York, NY), 2004.
In Case We're Separated: Connected Stories, Morrow (New York, NY), 2005.
Contributor of poems and short stories to magazines, including New Yorker, Ms., Glimmer Train, Ploughshares, Agni, Three Penny Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Massachusetts Review, Paris Review, and Shenandoah. Mattison's short story "In Case We're Separated" was published in Ploughshares, fall, 2001.
SIDELIGHTS: Alice Mattison's poetry and fiction explore—and celebrate—relationships, especially the deep bonds that form between female friends. In the New York Times Book Review, Hilma Wolitzer praised Mattison's works for their "elements of emotional surprise as well-wrought characters experience small but pivotal moments in their lives." Also in the New York Times Book Review, Dwight Garner wrote: "Alice Mattison is a charmer. She's one of those uncommon writers who are genuinely tickled by the ids and egos they commit to paper, and her characters bask—rather than squint—in the sunshine of her affectionate scrutiny."
Mattison is perhaps best known for her short story collections, some of which intertwine characters and situations from one story to the next. In his review of the author's 1997 collection Men Giving Money, Women Yelling: Intersecting Stories, Garner observed that the tales in the volume "overlap or echo one another in surprising and often startling ways. The cross-pollination goes far beyond [Mattison's] cast of recurring characters." Commenting on another volume of stories titled The Flight of Andy Burns, Wolitzer felt that the short story "seems better suited to [Mattison's] considerable talents, especially her ability to reveal so much in only a few paragraphs." Garner offered a similar opinion, concluding: "The reason Mattison's stories are so winning has … everything to do with attention to character and detail…. It's a joy to tune into her characters' thoughts, which seem to sprout organically from their skulls." A Publishers Weekly reviewer noted that in Men Giving Money, Women Yelling, "Mattison's spry language and light touch belie her careful framing of events, [and] they also blithely pave the way for her finely hewn endings, which in almost every story capture the unspoken charm and mystery of a character or a moment."
In Case We're Separated: Connected Stories proved popular with critics not only for its intertwined plots and memorable characters, but also for its unusual format. Based on the double sestina form of poetry in which certain words are repeated throughout the stanzas in a cyclical fashion and the final stanza is half as long as the others, Mattison's collection contains twelve short stories, with a thirteenth story half the length of the others. The collection centers on a Jewish family as they deal with many issues and changes throughout the twentieth century, among them war, immigration, adultery, homosexuality, and AIDS. Writing for Publishers Weekly, one reviewer acknowledged the "arresting focus" of Mattison's stories and noted that "the family's involuntary interconnectedness emerges starkly, even as the characters experience wildly differing epiphanies." In a Booklist review, Carol Haggas explained that Mattison "allows us to glimpse exactly what we need to know about each family member."
Mattison's first two novels are built upon a deep and provocative friendship between women. In Hilda and Pearl, the friends are sisters-in-law whose relationship deepens as their Jewish family becomes immersed in liberal politics. The Book Borrower explores the thorny friendship of Toby and Deborah, partly through a book they share about a trolley strike in the 1920s. A Publishers Weekly correspondent found Hilda and Pearl a "quietly suspenseful, psychologically penetrating novel, which is both a perceptive study of adolescence and a dramatic exploration of family relationships." Likewise, Booklist reviewer Alice Joyce cited the work for the manner in which "Mattison reveals the significant weight, and the mystery, of the secrets women share." In the New York Times Book Review, Lore Dickstein observed of The Book Borrower: "Mattison has taken action that often occurs in the wings and pushed it front and center, into the spotlight…. In this novel, as in most of Mattison's fiction, it is the women who matter. The friendship between Toby and Deborah overrides all the other relationships in their lives. It is fierce, intense, problematic." The critic deemed The Book Borrower an "emotionally wrenching, beautifully realized work."
In her next novel, Mattison continues to explore the complex nature of relationships. The Wedding of the Two-Headed Woman features fifty-something Daisy Andalusia, an independent and somewhat selfish woman whose anti-clutter business requires adept organizational skills, but whose personal life is anything but organized. Though recently married, Daisy enters into an affair with a client named Gordon Skettling. While organizing Gordon's office, Daisy stumbles upon an article with a headline reading "Two-Headed Woman Weds Two Men." The article quickly becomes the basis for a new, improvisational play to be performed by Daisy's eccentric theater group. As opening night of the play approaches and her affair with Gordon escalates, Daisy's double life threatens to be exposed. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly observed that, like the two-headed woman of the title, "there are two faces to everyone, and Mattison captures each of them beautifully." Similarly, Booklist contributor Carol Haggas commented that "Mattison captures Daisy's emotional angst in a disarming portrait of a woman at odds with herself." In a Kirkus Reviews critique of The Wedding of the Two-Headed Woman, one contributor described Mattison's complex writing style: "Bracingly serious but without pretension, Mattison's voice is like that of no one else writing today: the demands she makes of her readers are difficult but exhilarating."
Alice Mattison once told CA: "I write poems because I've always loved reading them and because I delight in word and sound. I also strive for meaning, to say something. My first book, Animals, came out of the experience, over a decade or so, of being pregnant with three children and seeing them through their babyhood. I was pulled during those years into a recognition of what it is to have a body and also into the effort to make real to myself the actuality of other people, other bodies. My present, less physical, more socially complicated poems—full of women talking in kitchens, people at committee meetings, teachers in classrooms, families on outings—seem to be a next step, an effort to find out how one is to live sensibly and decently among all these other selves. I take poems seriously, but I am happiest when they turn out humorous."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, February 15, 1992, Mary Ellen Quinn, review of Field of Stars, p. 1088; February 1, 1995, Alice Joyce, review of Hilda and Pearl, p. 990; July, 1997, Mary Carroll, review of Men Giving Money, Women Yelling: Intersecting Stories, p. 1799; September 1, 1999, Michele Leber, review of The Book Borrower, p. 69; August, 2004, Carol Haggas, review of The Wedding of the Two-Headed Woman, p. 1900; September 1, 2005, Carol Haggas, review of In Case We're Separated: Connected Stories, p. 65.
Entertainment Weekly, August 15, 1997, review of Men Giving Money, Women Yelling, p. 69.
Kirkus Reviews, June 1, 2004, review of The Wedding of the Two-Headed Woman, p. 512.
Library Journal, December 15, 1980, Susan Shafarzek, review of Animals, p. 2545; August, 1988, Marcia Tager, review of Great Wits, p. 175; December, 1991, Michele Leber, review of Field of Stars, p. 198; June 1, 1997, Jo Manning, review of Men Giving Money, Women Yelling, p. 154; August, 1999, Joanna M. Burkhardt, review of The Book Borrower, p. 140; October 1, 2004, Beth E. Anderson, review of The Wedding of the Two-Headed Woman, p. 71.
New Yorker, December 19, 1988, review of Great Wits, p. 80.
New York Times Book Review, November 6, 1988, Regina Weinreich, review of Great Wits, p. 22; September 19, 1993, Hilma Wolitzer, review of The Flight of Andy Burns, p. 33; March 26, 1995, Joyce Reiser Kornblatt, review of Hilda and Pearl, p. 21; September 7, 1997, Dwight Garner, review of Men Giving Money, Women Yelling, p. 12; October 10, 1999, Lore Dickstein, "Women's Work: The Tale of a 1920's Labor Leader Is Bound up with the Lives of Two Contemporary Women," review of The Book Borrower, p. 37.
Publishers Weekly, June 10, 1988, Sybil Steinberg, review of Great Wits, p. 70; October 25, 1991, review of Field of Stars, p. 46; February 15, 1993, review of The Flight of Andy Burns, p. 212; January 2, 1995, review of Hilda and Pearl, p. 59; June 16, 1997, review of Men Giving Money, Women Yelling, p. 45; August 23, 1999, review of The Book Borrower, p. 42; July 19, 2004, review of The Wedding of the Two-Headed Woman, p. 143; September 12, 2005, review of In Case We're Separated, p. 41.
Wilson Library Bulletin, January, 1989, Mary Manson, review of Great Wits, p. 112.
Women's Review of Books, October, 1995, Valerie Miner, review of Hilda and Pearl, p. 19.
Austin Chronicle Online, http://www.austinchronicle.com/ (December 10, 1999), Martin Wilson, "Off the Bookshelf," review of The Book Borrower.
Boston Phoenix Online, http://www.thephoenix.com/ (March 2, 2006), Ricco Villanueva Siasoco, "Love and Loss," review of The Wedding of the Two-Headed Woman.