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[753] Someone – Alice McDermott


” In the darkness, I felt him sink himself a bit farther into the bed, as was his routine. I felt myself, my heart, sinking as well. My brother had been the golden child reciting poetry I couldn’t understand, the thin seminarian emerging from the shadow of the tall trees . . . silent communion with the words he found in his books. Incomprehensible, yet, but in the same way that much that was holy was incomprehensible to me, little pagan. ” (226)

We’re all transients of this world, vulnerable to disappointment, sadness, sickness, loneliness. Someone is that quiet novel that shines on this seemingly cruel fact, but with much tenderness. It’s told in very plain language, depicting someone’s mundane, ordinary life—more than an everyman like you and I. Anybody. Zigzagging back and forth in time, McDermott gives us vignettes and scenes of Marie’s life.

The novel opens in an Irish American neighborhood in Brooklyn between the world wars. Time and place are delivered rather subtly, through familiar references. The 7-year-old Marie is seen “keeping vigil” on the stoop outside her house, taking in the sights and sounds of the neighborhood, waiting for her father to come home from work. She is perceptive and observant, but rather comical. She notices the fragile and clumsy Pegeen, young daughter of a Syrian neighbor, who later falls down a rung of staircase to her death.

The ordinary, rushing world going on, closing up over happiness as readily as it moved to heal sorrow. (173)

The narrative unfolds slowly, through small moments of intimacy and vividness. Marie’s mother is a headstrong woman who forces her to learn how to cook. Her father is an alcoholic who sneaks a drink during his evening stroll. Her brother, always buried in books, becomes ordained but quits priesthood shortly. Her best friend is Gertrude Hanson, whose mother dies while giving birth to her fifth child. Marie’s adolescence is uneventful, but her morose and stubborn resistance brings her mother to a standstill. She suffers a devastating betrayal by an opportunistic suitor. She becomes an assistant to the funeral parlor director. She becomes familiar with the mundane lives of people who are waked at the funeral home. She endures her father’s appalling death. She has gone to hell and back in childbirth years later.

Someone irradiates that rawness and immediacy of life, showing reader what it is to be alive, in this place and at this time. One of the strengths of this book lies in the sense of tenderness and intimacy, of empathy for the human condition. It deftly captures the nonchalance of time, and people’s resiliency.

232 pp. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. Hardback. [Read|Skim|Toss] [Buy|Borrow]

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