Friday, May 7, 2021

Maryanne O'Hara talks about her astounding memoir about love and loss and finding the light again, LITTLE MATCHES, mystical understanding from raw grief, our life stories, and so much more.








 First the praise:

 "Little Matches is gripping and true in all ways, and I am so glad to have spent time in the company of Maryanne and Caitlin. This is a fine, affecting memoir that will stay with me for a very long time."  - Meg Wolitzer, author of The Female Persuasion and The Interestings

“This luminous, harrowing memoir is a tale of a mother’s devotion and grief, yes, but when I closed Little Matches, tears standing still in my eyes, I was left with a sense that I had met not one but two remarkable spirits, my world enlarged.”  - Dani Shapiro, author of Inheritance and Hourglass

“Here is love in ink, and you will feel it: a book about life, including death.  O’Hara’s great achievement is showing us that inside of human connection, everything has a home—despair, hope, fear, beauty, decay. It turns out that death poses no threat to love.” - B. J. Miller, author of A Beginner’s Guide to the End

"The bravest and most generous of memoirs, Little Matches is the diary of your dearest friend, intimate and universal, an exquisitely written poem of deepest love, grief, and devotion. This is a journey of the soul. I feel haunted by these pages and profoundly blessed to have read them.”  - Lisa Genova, author of Still Alice and Every Note Played

"Maryanne O’Hara has written an extraordinary book, beautiful, heartbreaking, and so full of life on every page that I was reminded that loving deeply is full of risk and the only way to live.  This is the most meaningful book I’ve read in a very long time." - Jane Bernstein, author of The Face Tells the Secret and Rachel in the World

“A raw yet comforting journal of grief, pain, and sparks of hope.”
- Kirkus

“In this vividly written memoir novelist O’Hara shares a painful but ultimately beautiful account of her daughter Caitlin’s life with cystic fibrosis. . . . Her compelling story will resonate with anyone seeking a light in the darkest depths of grief.” - Library Journal

“Bracingly honest and deeply comforting.” - A PEOPLE magazine Book of the Week

 Maryanne O'Hara is the author of the astonishing novel, CASCADE, about an artist who is trying to figure out what’s important in life, and it takes place in the 1930s in a town slated to be destroyed for a reservoir, and in the art world of pre-war New York City. It was the Boston Globe Book Club’s inaugural pick, a People magazine pick of the week, and a finalist for the Massachusetts Book Award. Currently, it is the Massachusetts pick for the East Coast Centers for the Book “Route 1 Reads” program.  We could all love Maryanne for that alone.

But soon after CASCADE’s paperback released, her daughter Caitlin's (radiantly pictured above) respiratory health rapidly worsened. She needed oxygen 24/7 and a lung transplant. For three years, the family lived in twilit limbo as she waited — far too long — for the call that seemed like it would never come. Caitlin got her transplant, finally, but it was too late. She’d had to wait too long. She died in December of 2016. She was 33.

 LITTLE MATCHES is about life during overwhelming grief, about finding meaning in what seems meaningless. Written in the same gorgeous prose O'Hara is known for, it is remarkable. I'm so honored to have Maryanne here Thank you, thank you, Maryanne.

I always want to know about the Why Now Moment. What made you want to, need to write this astonishing memoir?


I was rudderless in my grief. For months, all I could do was flop from one surface to another and cry. I cried so much that I had to see an eye doctor because my eyes kept forming raw blisters from all the salt. The only thing that made me feel barely alive was writing on my blog where I could grieve out loud and feel connected, for as long as it took to craft and publish a post, to my readers and to Caitlin herself. Early on, readers suggested I write a book, an impossible idea. But nine months after Caitlin’s passing, my husband and I were walking around Walden Pond. It was our wedding anniversary, and the fact of “nine months” felt significant. I made my decision there, on one of Thoreau’s woodland paths. I needed purpose in my life, and if writing our story was going to inspire and help people, I wanted to do it.


As soon as I made the decision, I knew it would be important to start right away, to write from inside real-time grief. Doing so allowed me to document the personal transformation that happened, also in real time, as I gave hard thought to who I was and what I believed in.


Little Matches is the perfect title for this book because it represents all those little lights in the darkness. What is more devastating than losing your child—and yet, you wrote about it with such brave grace. Can you talk about this please?


Ohhhh… thank you. You know, Caitlin lived with such brave grace. She set an example, and the least I could do was follow it. Also—since childhood I’ve been obsessed with the passage of time, with knowing that our human lifetimes are just a blink. A part of me might have always known what was coming for me, known I would have to write about it. The author self inside always stands apart, observing and preparing the words, doesn’t she?


The structure of the novel, emails, texts, drawings, is so intimate. Did you always know this would be the structure?


I initially pictured the project as a multi-media mosaic of images and words, many of them Caitlin’s. When I began to write inside the limitations of a physical book, I wanted to bring some of that mosaic feel into it. Little Matches is in many ways co-written. Caitlin’s voice, in the form of emails and texts, brought her into the narrative in a seamless, organic way.


What I loved so much about this fierce, moving memoir is that out of great, raw pain, comes a kind of almost mystical understanding.  Now that this amazing memoir is out in the world, what has changed for you?

Yes... I think that’s what I love, too. All of the questions that had idly preoccupied me in life, and in the fiction I had published, became critical. It wasn’t enough to ruminate anymore. I needed answers­­ to the big life questions. It was the only way I could think of to continue to exist. What changed for me was that I came to discover what it is I believe in, and to know that my path forward has a lot to do with those beliefs. The feedback I am getting from readers is incredibly heartening. The fact that this book could make a woman quit her dead-end job and fly out west to visit an old friend to “take time for what’s important?” That it could reconcile a mother and daughter? What’s better than that? 



What’s obsessing you now and why?


Hah. I’m really working at not obsessing about anything, especially Little Matches. This book is so important to me, and I want the world to know about it and yet, so much of publishing is out of our control in this noisy world, as you know. So I’m working at not making myself anxious over what I cannot control. I’ve been focusing on what do I truly want now? How do I want to live the rest of my life?  I do know one thing: that my focus word moving forward after writing this book has been tranquility.  


What question didn’t I ask that I should have?


I would love to encourage everyone to think about their own life stories and how they might be told. I will be doing some legacy workshops, listed on my website, where I offer tips on conducting a life interview with a loved one or with oneself. Self-reflection, thinking about purpose and what gives your life meaning––it’s all so important. Giving ruminative thought to the overall arc of one’s life, acknowledging that it will one day end, is a valuable way to figure out whether you’re on the life path that your inner self knows is right.

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