She’s All Eyes
Memoirs of an Irish-American Daughter
By Maura Conlon-McIvor
By BILL DUNCAN
Book titles are always intriguing, but in the case of "She’s All Eyes," the
title of the paperback released on Friday, Oct. 28, was not the original
title of the book. It was first published as a hardbound book under the
title of "FBI Girl: How I Learned to Crack My Father’s Code."
The change in title is not that much of a stretch. It comes from a family
remembrance of the doctor’s comment when Maura was born: "She’s All Eyes."
Why the title change? Maura answered that in an interview with Currents:
"This is a story about a young girl wanting to know her father, the
importance of our first 14 years of life and how these years affect who we
are today. The paperback title captures that while clearly indicating this
is not a story about a young woman’s life inside the bureau."
It is the story of the Portland author’s struggle to connect with her
enigmatic FBI agent father while growing up in Los Alamitos, Calif. in the
1960s and 70s. The author has achieved a unique style from the point of view
of a young girl and has written the story from that viewpoint rather than an
adult’s. It makes for delightful reading in which the readers feel as though
they are part of the Conlon family in the 1960s, with a stay-at-home mom who
cares for her five children and a dad who works at a stressful job,
commuting daily to work in another city.
It is a very traditional Irish-American home with baseball games, Sunday
dinners of roast beef and potatoes and children enrolled in Catholic
parochial school. If that sounds like an "ho hum" book, read on. There is a
complex story that unfolds in this coming-of-age saga as the young girl is
determined to infiltrate her dad’s silent world, even after her mother,
Mary, says that her father, Joe Conlon, is trained by the FBI to keep
With that explanation, Maura joins her father in "hunting down" criminals.
She begins keeping a secret FBI journal where she writes down the license
plate number of all cars seen on her suburban street and notes all
suspicious persons. She even gets caught spying on a new neighbor lady
moving in a grand piano into her garage, a suspicious act to "all eyes."
She eavesdrops on adult conversations trying to crack the code of her stoic,
unemotional father. She interprets the cryptic snips of information from her
father’s silent world as a code and notes the code words in her FBI journal.
She reads Nancy Drew mysteries and watches The FBI on television.
While it is exhausting for a Catholic schoolgirl to keep her eye on the
neighborhood and try to fathom the dynamics of an emotionally and often
physically absent father, she sees a break in that silence when her brother,
Joey is born. It takes the birth of Joey, a Down Syndrome baby and the
murder of her father’s priest brother, Jack in New York for Maura to begin
to understand her father.
"My FBI agent father saw life darkly, yet inside he was tormented by a
dangerous vulnerability that emerges from his past, growing up fatherless
during the Great Depression, keeping a stiff upper lip while being shipped
off to World War II, then coming back home and joining the hyper-strict FBI.
My father, like other men of his generation, towed the line; but he could
never give himself permission to enjoy life."
She saw the crack in his wall of silence because he loved Joey so much.
"Joey was a sponge for love. He knocked down walls wherever he went with his
perpetual need to hug," Maura writes telling about the slobbery kisses that
Joey gave his loving father.
"This paradox touched me at a deep level," Maura said. "How people can feel
so much love and experience such difficulty expressing the depths. That
essentially is why I wrote this book. It becomes the job of the next
generation then to tell the story, to say the words of love abandoned deep
within the family well."
The book covers the years from 1966 through 1973. She explains her reason
for writing the book in the voice of a young girl. "I realized the child
wanted to tell the story, not Maura the adult. Our childhood, those first 14
years of life, are indelibly printed on our hearts. The child as narrator is
curious. She has no preconceived notions about the world. She hasn’t yet
learned the cynical ways of the adult."
In that way, she said, the child’s voice "unlocks what’s become so
mysterious to the adult."
In an epilogue she updates the reader on her family, the death of her father
and mother. Joey is living in a group home and she and her siblings continue
to share time with him. This year Joey, now 34, came to Oregon to spend time
Maura has done newspaper and magazine writing, but she says this is her
first book of creative nonfiction. She is already working on a new memoir
style book about the feminine influences in her life. Professionally, she is
a psychologist working in Portland, married to Andrew McIvor, who worked as
a reporter for The News-Review in 1981.
Reader’s may sample the book on the web by calling up:
(Bill Duncan is the editor of The Senior Times. He writes a weekly column
for The News-Review each Thursday.)