Lucye Rafferty/The Hoya National Book Award winning author Alice cDermott speaks about her most recent novel, Child of My Heart in ICC Auditorium Wednesday evening.

National Book Award Winner Alice McDermott presented her most recent book, Child of My Heart, as a metaphor for the recent controversies within the Catholic Church Wednesday evening in ICC Auditorium. Georgetown residents, university library associates and members of the university community gathered in ICC auditorium as cDermott read a passage from her latest work, which describes the emotions and behaviors of a family whose father is severely ill and immobile.

In McDermott’s story, each family member reacts numbly to the father and resists accepting the change, mirroring the father’s behavior as he refuses to see a doctor or accept his inevitable death. McDermott, an outspoken Catholic, explained that she drew remarkable parallels between the story and the current status of the Catholic Church, also experiencing significant suffering and resisting a change of ritual.

“I never begin my writing with the intention of providing a lesson, but any novel, play, poem or story can be formed into a parable with unintended messages,” McDermott said.

She continued the metaphor by explaining the father’s symbolism of the current institutional Church – aging, loving, stubborn, damaged, ritualistic and trapped with pain. The Church cannot win the current argument by sustaining tradition, and yet it still refuses to change the rituals of priesthood, she said.

McDermott depicted the mother as a pragmatic character who insisted on changing her husband through medical treatment, but nonetheless endured his suffering out of love and obedience.

Despite the parallels that McDermott provided, she said that rather than begin writing with a message in mind, she instead creates her “fiction as parable” with a foundation of characters and fictional literary basis. “As a fictional writer I never start off with a message, but ultimately discover it after completion of the work,” she said. “I also like the reader to be able to form their own explanations.”

In Child of my Heart, McDermott placed heavy emphasis on characters’ personalities, specifically in situations that normally are not written about.

“I have always been a contrarian writer. I tend to choose to write about situations that aren’t viewed as interesting fiction, such as the dying father who lies in bed all day,” cDermott said.

Finally, she emphasized the need for faith in the Catholic community and the current fear of change. By producing works of fiction such as Child of My Heart and Charming Billy, the National Book Award-winning novel chronicling a New York Irish immigrant society divided by parishes, she communicates this message to her readers. All the while, however, she hesitates to acknowledge her success.

“You never get good at fiction. Once you finish the story, you start all over again,” she said.

In spite of McDermott’s national success with her novels and ability to relate to current social and religious issues through fiction, she responded to the audience’s questions and praise with modesty. Audience members compared McDermott to Flannery O’Connor, whose work The Letters discusses suffering and the church, frequently alluding to moments of grace in fiction. cDermott, though described in similar fashion, quickly stated that O’Connor’s work is entirely more complex.

“Her fictional works intertwined with the Church are magnificent, almost mystical,” McDermott said.

A book signing session followed McDermott’s speech. The university’s Library Associates, who provide basic needs for Georgetown’s libraries and support GU events featuring famous authors, scholars and political figures, sponsored the event.

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