Sunday, October 27, 2013

Alice Gets It Right

I've been reading Alice McDermott for a long time. Some books I have really enjoyed, other have seemed too slight or too sentimental. (Maybe I am harder on her because we're sort of from the same tribe? I don't know.) So I approached Someone with some doubts. But I needn't have worried. This time Alice gets it just right.

The bland title and the nondescript cover seem appropriate for the narrator Marie. The novel covers more than 60 years of her life, jumping back and forth in time from her childhood in Brooklyn, her married life in Queens, her old age. Marie has no great ambitions, unlike her older brother Gabe, who is destined for the priesthood, but she is, as her mother complains, “a bold piece”. Within her circumscribed world she is a fierce observer of the everyday scenes that are both straightforward and complex. And in each scene McDermott seems to strike just the right tone. The humor is never forced, the grief is never maudlin, the narrative is full of sentiment but never sentimental.

Marie is an ordinary woman leading an ordinary life, but McDermott imbues her with a strong will and a tender heart, and I found the prose pitch perfect and a pleasure to read.

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