In your book, you describe a land agent who literally steps over the bodies of people starving outside his gates rather than give them a bite to eat. It's hard to comprehend that degree of callousness.

I don't understand it myself. There were a lot of laws that England had imposed at the time that kept the Irish people oppressed. They weren't allowed to speak their own language, weren't allowed to own property that was valued over a certain amount.

At the time, the landowners weren't Irish, but English. Most of them never set food in the country, let alone on their property. So, they were removed from the famine. They didn't see it first-hand.

There also was a lot of talk in Parliament at the time about the famine being divine providence. The population of Ireland had grown dramatically over the past century, and they felt this was God's way of culling the Irish and taking care of the problem.

Let's talk now about the scenes set in the present day. Did you, like Majella, have a difficult time adjusting to being a new mom?

Motherhood is always hard. That's one of the things that took me by surprise. I loved kids, I wanted kids, I was good with kids — and suddenly, I was home alone with this tiny, crying baby.

A few years ago we had this Yummy Mummy thing. New mothers were supposed to have the perfect manicure, and go to their hairdressers twice a week with their babies were on their hip. The fact is, you're covered in spit and poop, and your body isn't what it was a year ago and you're exhausted. Mothers should be able to admit that without shame and support one another instead of being so judgey and competitive with one another.

Did you exaggerate when you wrote the section about the Mean Mommy meet-up group?

Unfortunately, no. I went once to the meet-up and never went back. It was horrible. There were all these warring cliques: the SAH [stay at home] moms versus the working moms, the breast-feeding moms versus the formula moms. I just couldn't believe the way these women were treating each other.

One of the mothers of a 2-year-old actually said to me, "I don't even bother talking to the mothers of the newborns because I don't have anything in common with them."

I thought, "You are both women in your 30s with young children who are living in Queens. What more in common could you have that that?"

mary.mccauley@baltsun.com

If you go

Author Jeanine Cummins will read from her new novel at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Ivy Bookshop, 6080 Falls Road, Mount Washington. Free. Call 410-377-2966 or go to http://www.theivybookshop.com.

About the book

"The Crooked Branch" was published March 5 by NAL Trade Paperbacks. 400 pages; $15.

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