Goodness, Restraint, and Messiness

"One of the things that I’m always interested in is the problems of goodness. I’m very interested in goodness. I think badness gets a lot of treatment in literature and the notion is that goodness is not interesting. To have encounters with goodness can be as vexing as having encounters with evil. And goodness can create its own distortions in the person on the other side of goodness. And we often don’t know how to respond to goodness in the same way that we don’t know how to respond to evil…What does goodness prevent in human intimacy? We know what it allows, but what does it prevent? What is the patina that it creates over the soul of the good person that makes her or him impenetrable?"


“One of my great problems in life is that I think I am temperamentally a formalist and I’m very attracted to restraint in art. That would sort of link me with conservatives. But ethically, I’m very attracted to the mess of humanity and so that would link me to less traditional habits of mind. That’s a tension that I think marks me very much. It causes me a lot of anguish…I love restraint and I love human vitality and so I’m always trying to honor both in my work. [I’m] always doomed to fail on one side or the other, but it is a project that I’m committed to.”

- Mary Gordon, talking with Michael Silverblatt on KCRW's Bookworm about her most recent collection of short stories.