One of my favorite writers died earlier this week. Maeve Binchy, 72, sold more than 40 million copies of her novels and short stories, including her most famous, Circle of Friends and Tara Road.
I first discovered her work while rummaging around a Barnes and Noble store almost twenty-three years ago. I had a feeling I’d enjoy Circle of Friends after checking out the back cover copy. Immediately hooked, I went on a Maeve Binchy binge, eagerly gobbling up all of her previous novels.
Over the years, I took her with me on the train to and from work every day, on business trips, even to my mother’s house, so she, too, could enjoy the stories. I have every book available in the United States, plus a few of her short story collections.
Reading a Maeve Binchy novel is like a literary hug — warm and enveloping — but not sappy. Her tales of Ireland speak of everyday life, whether it was going off to college, swapping houses on a whim, or starting a restaurant.
Hers was a gentle writing style, but, please do not confuse this with weak. By no means was her work so light you could not find a universal truth in it anywhere or so tepid there was no feeling.
No, Maeve Binchy wrote about loss, love, infidelity, relationships, occupations, and expectations. She wrote what she knew, and it was wonderful.
|Maeve Binchy, 1940-2012|
I had the good fortune to meet her once, during an appearance at the bookstore down the street from my house, where she signed my copy of Evening Class. I didn’t want to gush all over her, so I wrote a letter saying how much I loved her work. A few months later, she wrote me back thanking me for my kind words. She used to write everyone back, not her assistant, mind you, but actually her.
Maeve Binchy was gracious and captivating. As soon as she spoke that day, everyone in the room was drawn into her stories.
Just like her books.
I have three present-day authors who greatly influence and inspire me, my literary trinity, if you will. Anne Tyler is my guide for realistic fiction. Joyce Carol Oates is the writing beast, a fierce and prolific force, unafraid of any subject. And Maeve Binchy is the heart.
Yesterday, I paid tribute to her the only way I knew how, by revisiting her novels, thumbing through many, fondly remembering the characters. The books are all on my mantel with a few flowers, our correspondence, and a candle.
Rest in peace, dear author, for your novels and stories live on.
For a great bio in her own words, click on the link below.
Photo of Maeve Binchy by Liam White, courtesy of USA Today, http://tinyurl.com/c7k6cuq.