Iowa Alumni Magazine | April 2006 | Reviews

She's All Eyes: Memoirs of an Irish-American Daughter by Maura Conlon-McIvor

By Angie Toomsen
"The world is full of criminals, and it is the job of my father, Special Agent Joe Conlon, to keep them out of our house."

Young Maura Conlon wants to crack a captivating code: what makes her deeply aloof father tick? Every night at dinner, the FBI agent and father of five shares zilch about his day. In fact, he rarely says much at all, waving away incessant questions from his unquenchably curious daughter. With her father's boss, J. Edgar Hoover, staring down at the Conlons from their living room wall, Maura is certain every little thing her father doesn't say is code for a clandestine heroic life in the FBI. Though she's known in Catholic school as the quiet introvert, Maura builds an imaginative secret life around the idealization of her father, enlisting Nancy Drew and the Blessed Virgin Mary to help collect clues to his private world.

It's only after a murder in the family and the birth of a Down Syndrome brother that Maura realizes her father's "code" is little more than his inability to share his own cavernous sorrow. By the time Maura is a teenager, she deconstructs the romanticized father and meets the real one. "For the first time, I see it—the wild animal in his eyes boring through, something wrecked, in pain all over. The animal is like a ghost caught in a well for centuries, its cry a soundless wail clenched so deep that it shakes you to the bone."

Set against the backdrop of 1960s Los Angeles and the mounting tensions of the civil rights movement, the Cold War, and Vietnam, She's All Eyes: Memoirs of an Irish-American Daughter—originally published under the title FBI Girl: How I Learned to Crack My Father's Code—is a personal yet universal history of an era of suspicion and the echoes of secrecy that force a daughter to yearn for her father even in his very presence. The subject matter could easily become heavy and read like a clichéd account of strained familial bonds, but Conlon-McIvor's light touch and energetic progression from marveling girl to emotionally astute young adult renders an evocative tale, told from the memory of the heart.