An ordinary life--its sharp pains and unexpected joys, its bursts of clarity and moments of confusion--lived by an ordinary woman: this is the subject of "Someone," Alice McDermott's extraordinary return, seven years after the publication of "After This." Scattered recollections--of childhood, adolescence, motherhood, old age--come together in this transformative narrative, stitched into a vibrant whole by McDermott's deft, lyrical voice. Read more...
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An ordinary life--its sharp pains and unexpected joys, its bursts of clarity and moments of confusion--lived by an ordinary woman: this is the subject of "Someone," Alice McDermott's extraordinary return, seven years after the publication of "After This." Scattered recollections--of childhood, adolescence, motherhood, old age--come together in this transformative narrative, stitched into a vibrant whole by McDermott's deft, lyrical voice.
Our first glimpse of Marie is as a child: a girl in glasses waiting on a Brooklyn stoop for her beloved father to come home from work. A seemingly innocuous encounter with a young woman named Pegeen sets the bittersweet tone of this remarkable novel. Pegeen describes herself as an "amadan," a fool; indeed, soon after her chat with Marie, Pegeen tumbles down her own basement stairs. The magic of McDermott's novel lies in how it reveals us all as fools for this or that, in one way or another.
Marie's first heartbreak and her eventual marriage; her brother's brief stint as a Catholic priest, subsequent loss of faith, and eventual breakdown; the Second World War; her parents' deaths; the births and lives of Marie's children; the changing world of her Irish-American enclave in Brooklyn--McDermott sketches all of it with sympathy and insight. This is a novel that speaks of life as it is daily lived; a crowning achievement by one of the finest American writers at work today. A "Publishers Weekly" Best Fiction Book of the Year
A "Kirkus Reviews "Best Fiction Book of 2013
A "New York Times "Notable Book of 2013
A "Washington Post "Notable Fiction Book of 2013
An NPR Best Book of 2013
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2013-06-17
- Reviewer: Staff
In this deceptively simple tour de force, McDermott (Charming Billy, winner of the National Book Award) lays bare the keenly observed life of Marie Commeford, an ordinary woman whose compromised eyesight makes her both figuratively and literally unable to see the world for what it is. When we meet her on the steps of her Brooklyn townhouse, she’s a bespectacled seven-year-old waiting for her father; McDermott then leaps ahead, when Marie, pregnant with her first child, recalls collapsing at a deli counter and the narrative plunges us into a world where death is literally just around the corner, upending the safety and comfort of her neighborhood; “In a few months’ time, I would be at death’s door, last rites and all,” she relates. We follow Marie through the milestones of her life, shadowed by her elder brother, Gabe, who mysteriously leaves the priesthood for which everyone thought he was destined. The story of Marie’s life unfolds in a nonlinear fashion: McDermott describes the loss of Marie’s father, her first experience with intimacy, her first job (in a funeral parlor of all places), her marriage, the birth of a child. We come to feel for this unremarkable woman, whose vulnerability makes her all the more winning—and makes her worthy of our attention. And that’s why McDermott, a three-time Pulitzer nominee, is such an exceptional writer: in her hands, an uncomplicated life becomes singularly fascinating, revealing the heart of a woman whose defeats make us ache and whose triumphs we cheer. Marie’s vision (and ours) eventually clears, and she comes to understand that what she so often failed to see lay right in front of her eyes. Agent: Sarah Burnes, Gernert Company. (Sept.)
A life revealed piece by piece
“Who’s going to love me?” Marie asks her brother Gabe in the hours after her first heartbreak. The girl has seen sad times already in her 1930s Brooklyn neighborhood: a girl who tumbles down a set of stairs to her death, a blind man left to umpire ball games for the neighborhood boys. But as her first love leaves her behind, Marie is confronted for the first time with the sorrow of an anonymous, unspectacular existence.
As Alice McDermott’s Someone skips across Marie’s life, the reader peers into such intimate moments as her first kiss, her first boyfriend, her first day working at a funeral home, the first time she meets her husband in the bedroom—moments that shape Marie into the woman she will become. The nonlinear story unfolds much like life itself: rambling in different directions, not always making it clear where you’re headed or why you’re along for the ride.
The Brooklyn neighborhood is nearly as much a character in Marie’s life as are its inhabitants. As a young woman, she refuses to even seek work outside of its boundaries. But as the neighborhood falls into disrepair, Gabe proves to be the child who is reluctant to leave.
McDermott is a three-time Pulitzer finalist and winner of a National Book Award. This, her first novel in seven years, is sure to be a welcome escape for those who have missed her lyrical voice and fine attention to detail. Marie and Gabe’s relationship echoes the closeness, contentiousness and theological discussions of the namesake siblings in J.D. Salinger’s Franny and Zooey. Much like those in that beloved novel, McDermott’s characters are more concerned with the daily, ordinary act of living. The result is a thoughtful, heartfelt tale that prompts the reader to take a closer look at his or her own days.