Page Turner / By Peter McDermott
The protagonist in Yvonne Cassidy’s second novel “What Might Have Been Me” has a decision to make that is a familiar one to young immigrants – and a particularly difficult one if the person is illegal: whether to commit long term to their country of residence.
After 11 years, however, Carla Matthews is brought abruptly to that crossroads with the news that her mother back in Dublin has been diagnosed with Altzheimer’s disease. Carla herself tells the story of how she came to New York for a summer job, but fell in love with Eddie, a musician, and the city itself, and opted not to return home to college. “A decade later though,” Cassidy said, “Carla’s life is not where it’s supposed to be.” They haven’t moved on much: he’s still in the band and she’s still waiting tables. Eddie is willing to marry her to aid her legalization, but the relationship is hardly ideal.
“What Might Have Been Me” is something of a change of pace for Cassidy, whose debut novel, “The Other Boy,” was a thriller. Both won praise from the critics. The second novel offers insights into family dynamics, the Sunday Times says, “the different reactions to loss, the fear and guilt, the problems with communication. Cassidy’s vivid and authoritative depiction of Alzheimer’s confronts clichés and misinformation about the disease that still abound.”
Cassidy writes in her acknowledgements: “I dedicated this novel in part to my grandmother, Sarah Bowe, who passed away in 2001 after a long battle with Altzheimer’s. It was a disease that seemed to be shrouded in silence, and I knew that I wanted to write about it, to incorporate it somehow in the story of one of my characters.”
In the fall of 2011, the novelist began “dismantling” (as she describes the packing of boxes) her life in Dublin to make a commitment to New York. That commitment involves helping some of the most city’s most disadvantaged. She works part time for Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen, the emergency feeding program. “I teach creative writing to homeless people,” Cassidy said. “Seeing their dedication to their writing and how much it means to them to have their voices heard is truly inspirational.”
The Yvonne Cassidy File
Date of birth: May 2, 1974
Place of birth: Dublin,
Partner: Danielle Mazzeo
Residence: Upper West Side, Manhattan.
Published works: “The Other Boy”(2010) and “What Might Have Been Me.”
What is your writing routine? Are there ideal conditions?
My ideal writing day starts outside – walking or running in the park gives me time to reflect on my characters and what scene I want to write that day. Although I have a writing desk in my apartment, I rarely write there - I usually go to the library on 42nd Street or even Starbucks. While some writers need absolute silence, I find the energy of other people feeds my work.
Since I’ve been published, I’ve had to let go of my ideal writing conditions and write whenever I find the time – which sometimes means jotting down lines of dialogue while I’m on the subway.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Remember to have fun with your writing - loosen the reins a bit, silence the voice that tells you “it’s not good enough.” Drop the “shoulds” and write what feels right for you. Let your work take the shape it’s going to take. This will help you to find your own voice, which is the most important thing for any writer.
Name three books that are memorable in terms of your reading pleasure.
“The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole” by Sue Townsend; “Angela’s Ashes” by Frank McCourt; “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett.
What book are you currently reading?
“The Blackwater Lightship” by Colm Toibin.
Is there a book you wish you had written?
“The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger.
Name a book that you were pleasantly surprised by.
“Room” by Emma Donoghue. I didn’t expect to be so gripped by the characters and to, literally, not be able to put it down at certain points.
If you could meet one author, living or dead, who would it be?
Raymond Carver. I’d love to sit down and chat with him over a coffee about his writing and his life. He was published late and in one of his essays he talks about having had “two lives,” which is something I relate to.
What book changed your life?
I’d have to say “The Catcher in the Rye” because reading it as a teenager was the first time I realised that novels could be written like that – as a conversation between the author and the reader, rather than being so formal and distant. That was the first time I remember thinking that one day maybe I, too, could write a novel.
What is your favorite spot in Ireland?
The West Coast. Donegal is my favorite county – I love the beaches and the rugged coastline.
For more information about “What Might Have Been Me” and its author go to www.yvonnecassidy.com.