No Harm Done

A collection of fifteen stories, Jean McGarry’s No Harm Done, depicts family life at its worst, best, and funniest, as if the author had conjoined the lunacy of Cold Comfort Farm with the bitter grievances of Dubliners. As the author writes in “Strong Boy,” this might be “…because every family, rich or poor, is roughage.”

The characters, gallant, goofy, gifted, and grim, include sickly mothers of a dozen children, boozy fathers with a gift of the gab, kids aspiring to be nuns and priests, or just to get out of town with a whole skin.

A section is devoted to one marriage made in heaven: a Jewish psychoanalyst devoted to his ex-nun wife. Another set of stories reworks familiar fairy tales, setting them in the wild present. No Harm Done(whose title is Irish code for wishful thinking) concludes with a truce to the war between the sexes, and indeed a ‘solution’ to the tragicomedy that is marriage and family.

McGarry on "Rella", a short story included inNo Harm Done:

As I mentioned in my bio, a lot of my work was devoted to presenting the world I grew up in, Irish-Catholic Providence, Rhode Island, which once I moved away struck me as not just provincial, but deeply strange, medieval in character, but with the quirkiness and knowableness of a doll village. Fiction-writers need coherent worlds against which to set their characters in action, and I was born to such a world.    

However, the job done, or done as well as I could do it, I moved onto other material and found

myself, after a trip to Rome my first re-writing the fairy tale, “Cinderella,” and trying to answer the question of what went wrong with the father that he came to marry the evil stepmother, who tormented his daughter.  How could he do this to his Cinderella?  What was his problem?     

Well, my story, which is entitled “Rella,” examines that father, especially in the opening, when he’s on a business trip to Rome and caught in a moment of acute disorder.        

I’ll read the opening, but also tell you the gist of what happens to this family because of the Father’s trip to Rome.  It’s hard to summarize, but Rella’s father, Rex, picks up something in Rome, a curse or spell, and when one of his gifts is sent back to the states, the spell freezes the ugly stepsisters into poly chromed statues, just at the moment when they’re dressed to go to the ball.  I’ve doctored most of the features of the original “Cinderella, ” and the ball is, in fact, a ball of eligible doctors, and it’s called the Galen ball for the unmarried girls, looking for husbands who are also good providers.