After This by Alice McDermott

   ‘Alice McDermott’s powerful new novel wittily captures the social, political and spiritual upheavals of the mid-twentieth century through the story of a family, and the changing world in which they live.
   After This, alive with the passions and tragedies of a determining era in our history, portrays the clash of traditional, faith-bound life and modern freedom, while also capturing, with McDermott’s inimitable understanding and grace, the joy, sorrow, anger, and love that underpin, and undermine, what it is to be a family.’

 

This is the story of Mary and John Keane and their four children. They are an Irish-Catholic family living in Long Island, NY. We meet Mary Rose a thirty-ish  single woman who lives with her father and brother, her mother is dead. She wonders if she will ever get married.  John Keane is home from the war with a bum leg as a result. They meet one day at a diner over lunch and our story of their life together begins.

I am not a Catholic, but I love reading novels with characters, like Mary and John, with strong ties like the Irish Catholic have to their faith and to family. I enjoyed meeting all the different families of different ethnicity in the neighborhood. The Persichetti’s, the Italian family on their street and the old man who owned the local grocery, Hungarian or Russian, I can’t remember now. That’s the draw back to an audio book, its hard to go back and double check things:(  And there’s Pauline, Mary’s friend who never marries and has no family. She adopts Mary and her family as her own.

Mary and John were young during WWII and their kids are growing up in the Vietnam War era. So many changes from one generation to the next.

This book was wonderful. I really hated for it to end. Ms. McDermott describes the mundane, day-to-day events of middle-class people—births and deaths, the fixing of meals, the ebb and flow of love, and the development of relationships inside the family and out. I love how she doesn’t deal with all the details of the characters lives, but focuses on their inner lives. By the time the book is finished you feel like you know them intimately. She seamlessly moves from one character to the next, exposing them to us not only thru their own thoughts and actions but thru people they encounter like the Catholic school secretary, Mr. Persichetti, Pauline, the grocer, the lady in line in front of Mary at the fair, their priest. And of course each other.

I don’t want to tell you too much about the story because it’s so much better to let it all unfold new as you read it. But we have a hurricane, a home birth, devastated families from the Vietnam war, abortion being legitimized…

I enjoyed this one more than ‘Someone’ her latest novel. I am looking forward to reading ‘Charming Billy’ next! There’s a wonderful long excerpt from the book HERE that you can read and see if you think this book is for you too!

Peggy Ann

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Someone by Alice McDermott

232 pages

on the dust jacket:
One Life: its devastating pains and unexpected joys; its bursts of brilliant clarity and moments of profound confusion. This is the subject of Someone, Alice McDermott’s extraordinary new novel, her first in seven years. Scattered recollections – of a curious childhood, of adolescent sexual awakenings, of motherhood, and, finally, of old age – come together in this resonant story of an unremarkable woman’s unforgettable life.
   We first glimpse Marie Commeford as a child: a girl in thick glasses, observing her pre-Depression world from a Brooklyn stoop. An innocuous encounter with a homely young neighbor named Pegeen Chehab establishes the bittersweet refrain of this sometimes darkly humorous novel. Pegeen calls herself an ‘amadan,’ the Irish word for fool; indeed, soon after her chat with Marie, she tumbles down her own basement stairs. The magic of McDermott’s story lies in how the events that follow reveal us all to be fools, dreamers, blinded in one way or another by hope or loss or the exigencies of life and love.
   In Marie’s precise retelling of her own history, everything is connected: her first heartbreak leads to her career as a funeral director’s ‘consoling angel’; her delicate brother’s brief time as a Catholic priest occasions her happy marriage and the birth of her children; the urban blight that destroys the Irish American enclave of her childhood parallels the deterioration of her immigrant mother’s health and her beloved brother’s sanity; the gestures of her young life reverberate in the griefs and the triumphs of her old age. This is a wholly original novel that speaks truthfully of life as it is daily lived, a crowning achievement by one of the finest American writers at work today.’

And it is my opinion that she is a fine writer! I loved this book. Her writing is lyrical, beautiful to feel in your mouth, or in your ears if listening to an audio version. I was listening to another of her books on audio in the car the same time I was reading this one. Not a good idea! Tough to keep the stories apart.

I prefer to read the book cover descriptions for myself so I always try to add them to my report for you. As close to holding the book for yourself as possible. Then I don’t always have to explain the storyline for you as its there and I can just tell you if I liked or didn’t like the book. Hope you like that approach:)

This story begins in pre-war Brooklyn. I loved the time period, the Irish Catholic families. It starts with Marie at age 7 and goes forward and then back again encompassing her death. Her father is a closet alcoholic, her brother is the favored child, born to be a priest. He’s very fragile though. He becomes a priest and within a year has left the priesthood. It’s eluded to that he might be homosexual but that story isn’t really developed. Although he is the character with the most ‘going on’ in his life, Ms. McDermott chose to explore shy, plain Marie. Although she is a unremarkable woman on the outside, she has a very active inner life and it is this that McDermott draws out.

A couple quotes from the book:
‘Mrs. Hanson had always been fleshy, with thick wrists and a broad, round face, but now with her fifth child on the way she was huge in her chair, her feet and ankles swollen, her stomach straining against the flannel of what had been her husband’s dressing gown. She tucked a handkerchief into the collar of the robe, and the bit of lace at its edge, caught between her full breasts, made her look like a woman in an old painting. As if she were a woman in an old painting, she wore her black hair partially pinned up, partially fallen over her shoulders. There was a moist gleam to her white skin, her cheeks and her forehead and her bare arms, as if they reflected some particular light. It occurred to me as I shyly approached that Mrs. Hanson was as beautiful as a woman in a painting, what with her size and her abundance, abundance of breast and hair and damp flesh, of face and feature: big dark eyes and bright teeth and wide, laughing mouth.
  ‘You girls run out and play,’ Mrs. Hanson said. She stroked her hard belly. ‘Fatty Arbuckle and I will take a little snooze.’

———–

He (Gabe her brother) put his hand on the bench between them. ‘I’m sorry this happened to you, Marie,’ he said wearily. ‘There’s a lot of cruelty in the world.’ And then he waved his hat to indicate the paths through the park and all the people on them. ‘You’ll be lucky if this is your worst taste of it.’
  He raise his hat to his head, adjusted it jauntily. As he stood, I looked up at him, my right eye squinting closed against the sun. I touched his arm. Even through the fabric of his jacket sleeve, I felt him withdraw a little. Something in him, in his muscle or in his bone, withheld.
  ‘Who’s going to love me?’ I said.
  The brim of his hat cast his eyes in shadow. Behind him, the park teemed with strangers.
  ‘Someone,’ he told me. ‘Someone will.’

I am half way through with her novel And This on audio and I LOVE it. I am going to read all of Ms. McDermott’s books. You should too!

You can watch an interview with the author on this book and listen to her read a section of it, if you want HERE.