Thursday, November 7, 2013


This short novel is a perfectly drawn portrait of the life of an ordinary woman.   It is all the more extraordinary because it spans seven decades yet takes place in just over 200 pages.  I have read that there is not a word wasted in McDermott's fiction, and I find that to be true. Her writing is spare, perfect, every word meaningful.

Marie Commeford is seven years old when the book begins, with her observing her little world from the stoop of her family's home in an Irish American neighborhood in pre-WWII Brooklyn. She is waiting for her father to come home from work. A brief encounter with a young woman on the street hints at the themes to come.  Things happen.  A young woman suffers a fall. Her best friend's mother dies in childbirth. A bride is left at the altar. Her brother enters the priesthood. We see snapshots of Marie's childhood, her parents and her brother Gabe, her early adult life working as "a consoling angel" for the local funeral home, the excitement of her first love and then heartbreak ("Who's going to love me?" she asks her brother Gabe.  "Someone," he replies, "Someone will." We see her marry a good man, have children, and enter old age. All these snippets of a life come together to show a real life, a genuine human being.   Marie is someone you will recognize.

This is a book I didn't want to end. My first thought was that I wanted to go back and re-read it again, there were so many words and phrases that I wanted to etch in my mind.  Too often I find myself unable to remember a book soon after I read it, but I still remember scenes from an earlier book of Alice McDermott, After This, and I think this book will be the same. This is a book that stays with you.

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