Sunday, February 22, 2015

Someone by Alice McDermott

Examination of a life

Marie is a little girl, waiting for her father to emerge from the subway.  From her stoop she observes all the Brooklynites. When her father does arrive, they are both delighted. Later he ducks into a doorway for a secret drink. Marie lives with her stoic mother and brilliant, destined for the seminary, brother Gabe. Her world is confined (possibly intensified) by a claustrophoic Irish Catholic environment. As the story continues, she is disappointed in love by a crippled boy, but finds a good man, a returning veteran, as a husband. In the suburbs, she raises three smartass kids.

I picked this up at first thinking please I cannot take 200 pages of Mother Macree but it wasn’t very long before I understood this book to be an exquisite work of art. A life depicted in tiny brushstrokes, surrounding a central pain. The pain of life. The book is full of beautifully evocative sentences, images that reoccur from childhood to old age, taking on a special resonance the second time around. One of the themes was a contrast between an earlier simpler time and today’s crass modernity. McDermott doesn’t shy away from the ugly. The novel is about love. And hope.

Marie refuses to learn to cook because her friend’s mother died after she learned to cook. Instead, after eating her deliberately terrible Irish bread, Marie’s father dies. Nothing is wasted here, no image, no declaration, no insight. Everything returns, tying into the plot and the central imagery. Dozens of characters fill the pages, all filled with the breath of life. A community is depicted. This is a jewel of a book.

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