This sample Mary Higgins Clark Essay is published for informational purposes only. Free essays and research papers, are not written by our writers, they are contributed by users, so we are not responsible for the content of this free sample paper. If you want to buy a high quality essay at affordable price please use our custom essay writing service.
Novelist Mary Higgins Clark has written more than twenty best-selling suspense novels. Critics have likened her novels to the works of Alfred Hitchcock, citing her talent for weaving stories around people in highly intense and terrifying situations. Like Hitchcock, Clark’s books lack graphic violence and sordid details; the violence is implied. Her signature trait is writing suspenseful stories that take place in tight time frames with clear distinctions between good and evil.
Works in Biographical and Historical Context
Escaping Poverty through Reading
Clark was born on December 24,1929, in New York City to Joseph Higgins and Nora C. Durkin. Mary attended St. Francis Xavier School, a Catholic school. As a child, Mary enjoyed writing poems and skits. Her three brothers were often coerced into performing them with her. The Higgins family struggled during the Great Depression. Joseph Higgins worked long hours. Perhaps as an escape from hardship, Mary loved to read, at first taking great delight in fairy tales and later graduating to mystery stories and
Nancy Drew novels. She sent her first story out for publication when she was sixteen, but it was rejected because the editor found her characters too “upscale”: a defining attribute of her later novels that has not hindered their popularity.
Gaining Strength of Character from Tragedy
In 1939 Mary experienced a grave loss when her father died unexpectedly of a heart attack, and her mother struggled to support her family. The Higgins took in boarders, and Mary took a job while she was still a student to help make ends meet. Just prior to her graduation from Villa Maria Academy, a Roman Catholic high school, Mary experienced a second loss when her older brother, Joe, a new naval recruit, died of spinal meningitis. Her brother’s death spurred her to choose secretarial school rather than college so that she could provide her family with immediate income.
Forgoing a college scholarship, Mary went to Ward Secretarial School and on to a job as an advertising assistant at Remington Rand, working to help support her family. After being fascinated by the tales of a flight attendant friend, Mary decided to see the world. She immediately changed careers, put off marriage, and went to work for Pan American Airlines. She flew for a year, then married Warren Clark, an airline executive and long time friend of the family.
Writing about Experience
Clark gave birth to five children in the first eight years of her marriage and then pursued her interest in writing. She started taking creative writing courses at New York University, writing romance fiction about flight attendants for the next few years. Her stories took place in settings with which she was familiar, and her characters were modeled on people she knew or observed.
Clark kept a disciplined schedule for her writing, rising at 5:00 A.M. and writing until 7:00 A.M., when her children woke up. She published a few short stories and continued to write stories resolutely until two events occurred: first, the short-story market faltered, and then, when she was thirty, Warren Clark learned that he was suffering from severe arteriosclerosis and was not expected to live much longer.
History Repeats Itself
In 1964, after five children and fifteen years of marriage, Clark’s husband died of a heart attack, leaving her to care for her children alone— the same situation her mother had faced. Clark turned to her natural talent for writing to support her family and went to work for Robert G. Jennings as a radio script writer. She learned to write concisely for radio, building the action quickly and catching and holding the audience’s attention. During the early and middle 1960s, it was still considered unusual for a woman to seek a career, and it would have been more traditional for Clark to pursue remarriage rather than work to support herself and her children. However, the social climate would soon change.
By the late 1960s, and especially in the 1970s, an organized women’s rights movement in North America pressed for equal professional opportunities with men and made great inroads into areas that had always been dominated by men.
A Turning Point and Financial Security
Clark’s first attempt at writing a book-length work, a biography of George Washington called Aspire to the Heavens (1968) was a commercial failure. However, she took it in stride and decided to write what she liked to read, which was mystery and suspense novels. Clark’s agent sent her first fiction manuscript, Where Are the Children? (1975), to Simon & Schuster. Upon finishing a first reading of the book, editor Phyllis Grann called Clark’s agent and said, ”Don’t show Mary Higgins Clark’s book to anyone else. I want it.” The deal was sealed in May 1974, and Simon & Schuster has published every Clark novel since.
Clark’s novel Where Are the Children? was an immediate success and became a best seller, earning over one hundred thousand dollars in paperback royalties. The money provided Clark with the opportunity to attend college, and she pursued a degree at Fordham University where she began work on her second novel, A Stranger Is Watching (1978). Inspired by news reports, this thriller earned more than one million dollars in paperback rights and was made into a motion picture in 1982. Clark’s economic troubles subsided. She now had the security to write full-time.
Queen of Suspense
Clark’s popularity was not short lived. Presently, the author of twenty-eight best sellers, Clark shows no signs of quitting. She has received many awards, including the Horatio Alger Award and the Grand Prix de Literature of France. She has received thirteen honorary doctorates, from such universities as Villanova, Fordham, and Seton Hall. Clark has passed on her passion for storytelling to her children as well. She has co-authored several suspense novels with her daughter Carol.
Works in Literary Context
Clark is one of the most successful suspense novelists today. She likes to weave a plot around ordinary places and people who are suddenly plunged into terrifying situations. She often uses news stories as her inspiration and spends times in courtrooms, observing people and listening to the details of real murder cases.
A signature element of Clark’s novels is the fast-paced action. In some works, the action begins immediately, however, the time span of the action may vary. The Cradle Will Fall (1980) takes place over the space of a week; the action of A Stranger Is Watching covers three days; and Where Are the Children? spans a single day. Clark is a master at relating relevant facts or historical information needed for the story through dialogue or through such conventions as a story within a story and conveying simultaneous episodes, all without breaking the pace.
Heroines and Evildoers
One of Clark’s first novels to feature the opulence and high society that characterize her later works is Stillwatch. Her own experience with a break-in was the impetus for Stillwatch, a political thriller with two strong female protagonists, each successful and each haunted by her past. By seeing the main characters’ points of view and knowing what they are thinking, the reader gets to know them quickly and becomes deeply involved in the story. In addition to constructing a believable and sympathetic heroine, Clark creates a realistic and menacing, oftentimes deranged, killer. In most of her stories, the ”whodunit” is revealed as the story unfolds, and the perpetrator’s motivation and possible future misdeeds provide the suspense, a technique that has been criticized as a weakness by reviewers looking for a serious mystery.
Formulaic Suspense Plots
Many of Clark’s novels are all so unmistakably ”Clark” as to be almost formulaic. Most are set in New York City with a more affluent cast of characters and a more sophisticated, but still sensitive and strong, heroine than had been the case in her first four novels. The similarity in the pattern of her works may occur because she always follows what has proven to be a rewarding method for her writing: ”At my first writing class, I was told to think of a true situation and then ask myself, ‘Suppose’ and ‘What if?’ To that I have added a third question, ‘Why?’—there must be motivation. Those rules have made it easy for me,” Clark relates in The Writer.
In spite of writing specifically for a popular audience and keeping to her winning formula, Clark includes profound psychological and philosophical elements in her novels. Many, especially the earlier ones, are concerned with the heroine confronting an often ominous past. Most of the works address parent-child relationships, whether thriving or corrupt, and the heroine’s realization of her individual strength and courage in a kind of trial-by-fire approach. Clark’s later novels, while more glamorous in setting than the earlier ones, deal with such issues as the nature of beauty, artificial insemination, the death penalty, and child abuse, while practically all of them at some level raise the issue of justice and portray the struggle between good and evil. Clark suffers no ambiguity in her characters; the readers are supposed to identify with the heroines just as they are meant to vilify the murderers.
Works in Critical Context
The Master of Technique
Many reviewers have criticized Clark’s work for a lack of character development, calling her personalities flat and wooden, as well as accusing her of being too formulaic. Yet, the critics admit, the formula works. Carolyn Banks from the Washington Post notes that there is a kind of ”Mary Higgins Clark formula” that readers both expect and enjoy: ”There are no ambiguities in any Clark book. We know whom and what to root for, and we do. Similarly, we boo and hiss or gasp when the author wants us to. Clark is a master manipulator.”
While some critics commend Clark for handling com pact time frames in her novels, others, such as Clarence Petersen, have observed that Clark’s fast-paced excitement comes at the expense of detail and human insight. Yet in his review of Weep No More, My Lady, Petersen writes that the emotional basis of the story ”draws you into sympathy with the heroine . . . until nothing can make you close the book.” It is Clark’s ability to engross readers in frenetic plots that garners her critical and popular attention.
All Around the Town
Critics are most impressed with Clark’s ability to increase suspense and keep readers turning the page, as in All Around the Town (1992). Susan Toepfer of People magazine remarked, ”There are mystery writers who concoct more sophisticated plots, more realistic settings, more profound characters. But for sheer storytelling power—and breathtaking pace—Clark is without peer.” The New York Times was also impressed with this novel, claiming ”Clark pushes buttons we never dreamed we had.” However, not all reviewers were pleased. Though Kirkus Reviews states that ”Clark returns to what she does best: using a threatened child to grab you by the throat and shake well,” the reviewer also notes that Clark’s ”heart’s not in it: broad hints from the outset will tip off all but the most witless readers. No whodunit, then—but Clark’s legion of fans, enthralled by her undeniable skill in pushing their buttons, won’t even notice.”
- Clark, Mary Higgins. Kitchen Privileges. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002.
- Pelzer, Linda Claycomb. Mary Higgins Clark: A Critical Companion. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1995.
- Swanson, Jean, and Dean James. ”Clark, Mary Higgins.” By a Woman’s Hand: A Guide to Mystery Fiction by Women (1994): 45-46.
- Whissen, Thomas. ”Mary Higgins Clark.” In Great Women Mystery Writers: Classic to Contemporary. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press.
- Evans, Paul. ”Unsolved Mystery.” Book (January-February, 2003): 72.
- Rozen, Leah. ”A Perfect Matchup for a Mystery Queen.” Good Housekeeping (November 1996): 23-24.
- Mary Higgins Clark. Retrieved September 11, 2008, from http://www.maryhigginsclark.com. Last updated in 2008.
- Mary Higgins Clark. Simon & Schuster Web site. Retrieved September 11, 2008, from http:// www.simonsays.com/mhclark. Last updated on June 8, 2007.
Free essays are not written to satisfy your specific instructions. You can use our professional writing services to order a custom essay, research paper, or term paper on any topic and get your high quality paper at affordable price. UniversalEssays is the best choice for those who seek help in essay writing or research paper writing in any field of study.