Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Review: Someone by Alice McDermott

Alice McDermott is a master at capturing the small, ordinary graces of everyday life, especially in the communities of her choice. She has an extensive backlist of amazingly beautifully written novels behind her and her newest novel, Someone, is another tour de force of the same sort. In this one, she draws an intimate and revealing portrait of Marie, an Irish Catholic girl who grows to adulthood in Brooklyn in the 1930s.

Opening with Marie as a young child sitting on the steps of her family's house waiting for her father to come home, she witnesses the evening return from her job of a clumsy young woman who will die that night , setting the tone and highlighting the dichotomy of life and death that reverberates throughout the novel. After Pegeen goes inside her house, Marie, plagued as she is by terrible eyesight, sits and myopically watches the neighborhood street scene unfold in its usual patterns. And it's this combination of wide angle view coupled with the close-up particulars of Marie's life which drive this carefully drawn tale of the unremarkable, ordinariness of life. Marie narrates the major milestones of her life: dating, a first job, marriage, pregnancy, illness, and more, as well as illuminating her older brother Gabe's life through his entrance into the priesthood, his eventual choice to leave his vocation behind, and her caring for him in his struggle in the aftermath.

The novel is not chronological but jumps back and forth in time as Marie's memories provoke other stories from her life. McDermott observes and records the complex and exceptional, yet utterly simple life of her main character. And what she has captured here in this observational novel are the highs and lows of a regular, quotidian life, love in all its unpretentiousness, and the poetry of the every day. Those who enjoy a quiet, character driven novel full of stunning and unexpected recognitions will find a finely wrought piece here. In McDermott's hands, the very nothingness of the plot is some of the magic of the tale.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book for review.

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