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Author Morgan McCarthy
Author Morgan McCarthy
Isolation doesn’t only mean being alone. You can feel distant from a filled room of people who seem like the ghosts from a fearful sight in a hidden glen of a vast estate. Morgan McCarthy grinds our souls with this torment found in Jonathan and his sister Theo in the coming of age novel, The Other Half of Me.
Isolation surrounds like a force that makes a person hold back on expressing a laugh or a tear because the group frowns on emotion. Or isolation pushes like a vice into the grips of the very person who threatens because the yearning for approval draws the breath away from where it could go. To those the person left behind. Others who love and need that air. But that force of needing approval chains the person to turn icy looks to the once cherished ones in a vain hope of reducing threats from the foreboding authority figure.
McCarthy’s literary hand takes us on a journey through childhood to early adulthood as Jonathan and Theo face being isolated from the family’s dark secrets that lay as hidden ghosts.
McCarthy’s characters wrap their hungry arms around the hopes of connecting, but readers feel the blood drain from those arms as the siblings set up barriers to others.
And McCarthy widens our sensation to touch on those same fears written by Evelyn Waugh in her famous Brideshead Revisited. When Charles Ryder left the Brideshead estate after a loss of connection with Sebastian, he thought, “I felt I was leaving a part of myself behind. And wherever I went, I would feel the lack of it hopelessly as ghosts.” Readers might wonder whether those words would also describe McCarthy’s Jonathan.
Jonathan and Theo cling to each other as a ghost-faced mother lives in a perpetual headache or alcoholic state. The wisps of a father come only from tales that leave faint traces of his once being in the picture. And Grandmother Eve’s face appears only as a celeb in the newspaper and tele. While Jonathan grips a lifeline only with Theo, the effects of an isolation has poured quicksand into the hopes as the children strive to grow without adult guidance.
McCarthy’s silent scream of warning can’t be heard by either Jonathan or Theo as they fall into the pit of setting barriers up to people. Jonathan’s vision of hope spots the success of grandmother Eve, who sets up business deals without thinking of making deep personal connections.
Jonathan watches the cool, antiseptic sheen that covers grandmother as he moves to construct a plastic layer to hold his being together. Yet in the process, he moves away from Theo’s disjointed but impressionistic gaze at life.
Will he lose all former hopes of connection as he ambles through life? Will he turn around and take Theo with him to counter the stifling air?
Success outweighs the deeper anchor of commitment, chaining Jonathan’s heart. His love of a long-time friend, Maria, can’t be expressed because his connecting points have fizzled in the ambers of the past’s alienation. The tugs from the tides washing in the rooms of Evendon, his home, cast him adrift in the past where he could not find out life’s answers from adults. He relied only on those whispers that gave him the image of living for the moment.
As a young adolescent, Jonathan thinks sex is enjoyable, but shifts from woman to woman, unwittingly striving to find a guide to lash onto that buoy that once was Theo’s corona. Jonathan’s mind bypassed the questions about the loss of father and grandfather.
Yet he shuns Theo’s increasingly free spirit because of the interference in his scheduling. Theo’s outstretched arms to embrace the world hit walls of conformity that question her flightiness, her aid to “undesirables” and her lack of ambition. She, too, has struggled with the loss of a complete family or support system.
As if those pulls on the being aren’t enough, McCarthy widens the scope of the isolation. Jonathan and Theo drift through the sticky webs of conforming in a social caste system with other seeking souls in real life and literature. Jonathan and Theo shine as another example of such turmoil.
Readers might feel as though they push the veil of mist from Jonathan’s home, the Evendon estate, to try to see meaning. Right from the outset, the image of the home appears, “standing out like a black and white hallucination.” The place existed in the same plane as the garden filled with, “different darknesses of gray.”
A place to separate from others or find ghosts, could be the readers’ image. A place large enough to have sheltered the children under tables as they overheard whispers of grandfather’s death, or grandmother’s abandonment until mother’s drinking had to be shut away, a blemish on the distance between the furniture of the rooms that bracketed the hearts of the youngsters.
Readers will probably have visions of the isolation Charles and Sebastian faced in Brideshead. For them, the isolation drove Sebastian from life’s hopes amid the constrains of jewels and religious statues. Sebastian’s memories of breaking loose, like those of Theo sifted away…lost…from the rocks of conformity that weighed them down in the sands of the past.
In a similar aching of loss, when Charles shuffled through painting the stones of architecture or the nature in Mexico, he broke through the alienation of his loveless marriage.
Readers will want to explore the depths of McCarthy’s view of the recesses of the mind that fling back and forth those mental arrows of fear, anger and hope. Readers will want to find out whether Jonathan erupts from the depths of the bog’s mire where his heart once lay with Theo and whether he can climb back to grasp her hand.
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