Female. Education: Graduate of Connecticut College; New York University, M.F.A.
Within Arm's Reach (novel), Shaye Areheart Books (New York, NY), 2004.
Ann Napolitano's debut novel, Within Arm's Reach, was described by Booklist's GraceAnn A. DeCandido as "graceful and fluidly written." It is the story of several generations of an Irish American family told from six points of view. The McLaughlins live in New Jersey, and their matriarch, Catharine, is in a care facility, where all of her memories are collected in one room. Catharine is in decline. She loses her driver's license after being involved in a minor accident, then falls and breaks her hip. She talks to her dead Irish relatives and mourns her dead children and the son who is traumatized from his participation in Vietnam. Although she is physically the weakest member of the family, it is her love and strength that holds them together.
The members of the family do not communicate well, instead holding in feelings and distancing themselves from each other. Catharine's granddaughter, an advice columnist named Gracie, is pregnant by a man she does not love. Gracie's sister, Lila, is a third-year medical student whose tendency to be controlling might hinder her chances at completing her residency. Lila is against Gracie continuing the pregnancy, but she is also envious. Their childless Aunt Angel wants to adopt the child, and Catharine sees this new birth as a family renewal. Other characters and voices are provided in parents Kelly and Louis, and Noreen, a nurse. Library Journal critic Andrea Tarr commented that although the issues are serious, this story "remains hopeful and includes ample doses of humor and wit." Tarr called Within Arm's Reach an "exquisite, skillfully written gem."
Napolitano told CA: "I decided I wanted to be a writer in fourth grade, when my teacher gave the homework assignment of turning a list of vocabulary words into sentences. I had such fun making the sentences that an hour passed before I knew it—and when you're ten, an hour spent on a piece of homework is unthinkable. I started my first novel the next day, and wrote four pages about a wartime nurse before I gave up. But that was the start of my thinking about becoming a writer.
"The two authors that had the biggest influence on me while I was growing up were Henry James and Raymond Carver. The Ambassadors by James and the story "Cathedral" by Carver broke my mind open when I read them. In a way I don't completely understand; they showed me new possibilities with what I could create with words.
"When I'm working on something, I wake up in the morning and don't let myself leave my apartment until I've written three pages. I find the first draft much easier than the rewriting process. When you are writing the first draft, nothing is wrong. You're simply making up a world, exploring it in what might be a very haphazard fashion. I don't write with an outline; I figure the story out as I go along. E. L. Doctorow said that writing a novel is like driving your car home on a foggy night. You can only see as far as the end your car headlights, but that's good enough to find your way home. Once I've reached the end of the novel, I finally have an inkling about what it's all about, and then I go back and rewrite it over and over again. The revising of a novel, for me, takes at least as long as writing the first draft."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, June 1, 2004, GraceAnn A. DeCandido, review of Within Arm's Reach, p. 1704.
Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 2004, review of Within Arm's Reach, p. 355.
Library Journal, April 15, 2004, Andrea Tarr, review of Within Arm's Reach, p. 126.
Publishers Weekly, June 14, 2004, Jeff Zaleski, review of Within Arm's Reach, p. 44.
Ann Napolitano Home Page,http://www.annnapolitano.com (November 3, 2004).