September 2013 Indie Next List
— Sharon K. Nagel, Boswell Book Company, Milwaukee, WI
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An ordinary life-its sharp pains and unexpected joys, its bursts of clarity and moments of confusion-lived by an ordinary, but unforgettable woman: this is the subject of Someone, Alice McDermott's extraordinary New York Times bestselling novel.
We first glimpse Marie Commeford as a child: a girl in thick glasses observing her pre-Depression world from a Brooklyn stoop. Through her first heartbreak and eventual marriage; her delicate brother's brief stint as a Catholic priest and his emotional breakdown; her career as a funeral director's "consoling angel"; the deaths of her parents and the births of her children-we follow Marie through the changing world of the twentieth century and her Irish-American enclave. Rendered with remarkable empathy and insight, Someone is a novel that speaks of life as it is daily lived, with passion and heartbreak, a crowning achievement of one of the finest American writers at work today.
Praise For Someone: A Novel…
“A fine-tuned, beautiful book filled with so much universal experience, such haunting imagery, such urgent matters of life and death.” —The New York Times
“A remarkable portrait of an unremarkable life.” —The New Yorker
“Fear and vulnerability, joy and passion, the capacity for love and pain and grief: Those are common to us all. Those are the things that great novelists explore. And it's this exploration, made with tenderness, wisdom, and caritas, that's at the heart of Alice McDermott's masterpiece.” —Roxana Robinson, The Washington Post
“Just as McDermott manages to write lyrically in plain language, she is able to find the drama in uninflected experience. This is the grand accomplishment of Someone.” —Charles McNulty, Los Angeles Times
“[McDermott's] sentences know themselves so beautifully: what each has to deliver and how best to do it, within a modicum of space, with minimal fuss...She understands that nothing is unalloyed, not kindness or cruelty, not gladness or despair. Here, in the most deceptively ordinary language, she evokes both the world of light and that of darkness...[Someone] has something of the quality of a slide show...Each slide, each scene, from the ostensibly inconsequential to the clearly momentous, is illuminated with equal care. The effect on the reader is of sitting alongside the narrator, sharing the task of sifting the salvaged fragments of her life, watching her puzzle over, rearrange and reconsider them--and at last, but without any particular urgency or certitude, tilting herself in the direction of finally discerning their significance. This is a quiet business, but it's the sense-making we all engage in, the narrative work that allows us to construct a coherent framework for our everyday existence. It's also a serious business, the essential work of an examined life...McDermott's excellence is on ample display here.” —Leah Hager Cohen, The New York Times Book Review
“Few contemporary writers can bring a time and place to life as well as Alice McDermott...Beginning in post-World War I Brooklyn, N.Y., and ending up in the split-level suburbs, [Someone] works the subtle magic of all good art--its particulars yield a universal world...Exquisitely observed, the story takes liberties with time, juxtaposing Marie's past, present and future. The characters of her childhood continue to turn up, literally or in memory. Their secrets, their scandals and tragedies, color her adulthood...McDermott treats every character with unsentimental fondness. She never sets herself up to forgive or excuse; instead, she embraces each person with a kind of wonder and acceptance that becomes its own form of morality. A rare and lovely writer, she's given us another book brimming with earthly grace.” —Tricia Springstubb, The Plain Dealer (Cleveland)
“Novelist Alice McDermott, winner of the National Book Award and three-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize...does scene. And she's at her most brilliant doing it in Someone...Someone is ordinary Marie's scattered retellings of her ordinary life. In interviews, McDermott has discussed retelling--how it is not the same as what happened. Events take place, and then they are over. What we have to say about them afterward is colored or shaded. Memory transforms. As Marie is retelling, she jumps forward and back in time. Her nonlinear presentation, combined with her strangely faulty eyesight, keeps us fascinated.” —Isabel Nathaniel, Dallas Morning News
“[Someone is] filled with subtle insights and abundant empathy and grace.” —USA Today
“‘Ordinary' is a word that's used a lot to describe McDermott's characters, mostly Irish and working class, mostly un-heroic in any splashy way. McDermott's heroine is named Marie and in Someone, we readers hear, in a fragmented way, about the marathon span of her life...yet in McDermott's unsentimental rendering, Marie's ordinary life becomes one for the record books. That's the spectacular power of McDermott's writing: Without ever putting on literary airs, she reveals to us what's distinct about characters who don't have the ego or eloquence to make a case for themselves as being anything special...[McDermott is] a master of silence and gesture.” —Maureen Corrigan, NPR
“A quiet tour de force of a story. McDermott writes in lyrical yet methodical prose about an ordinary woman living an ordinary life, a seemingly nonstory with heartache, joy, suffering and beauty all simmering beneath the scattered recollections that make up the novel...Marie narrates the novel in a voice that is both subdued and compelling. Her life is punctuated by astute observations of the people around her as she grows from child to adolescent to adult...So skillful, so controlled...Ordinary life is made extraordinary by McDermott's tender characterization of women, of husbands, of sons, of parents--a life that includes both the dark and the light within the simply ordinary.” —Eliana Smith, The Kansas City Star
“In this deceptively simple tour de force, McDermott...lays bare the keenly observed life of Marie Commeford, an ordinary woman whose compromised eyesight makes her both figuratively and literally unable to see the world for what it is...We come to feel for this unremarkable woman, whose vulnerability makes her all the more winning--and makes her worthy of our attention. And that's why McDermott, a three-time Pulitzer nominee, is such an exceptional writer: in her hands, an uncomplicated life becomes singularly fascinating, revealing the heart of a woman whose defeats make us ache and whose triumphs we cheer. Marie's vision (and ours) eventually clears, and she comes to understand that what she so often failed to see lay right in front of her eyes.” —Publishers Weekly (starred)
“One of the author's most trenchant explorations into the heart and soul of the 20th-century Irish-American family...Marie's straightforward narration is interrupted with occasional jumps back and forward in time that create both a sense of foreboding and continuity as well as a mediation on the nature of sorrow...Marie and Gabe are compelling in their basic goodness, as is McDermott's elegy to a vanished world.” —Kirkus
“Readers who love refined, unhurried, emotionally fluent fiction will rejoice at National Book Award–winner McDermott's return. McDermott... is a master of hidden intensities, intricate textures, spiked dialogue, and sparkling wit. We first meet Marie at age seven, when she's sitting on the stoop in her tight-knit, Irish-Catholic Brooklyn neighborhood, waiting for her father to come home from work. Down the street, boys play stickball, consulting with dapper Billy, their blind umpire, an injured WWI vet. Tragedies and scandals surge through the enclave, providing rough initiations into sex and death . . . A marvel of subtle modulations, McDermott's keenly observed, fluently humane, quietly enthralling novel of conformity and selfhood, of ‘lace-curtain pretensions' as shield and camouflage, celebrates family, community, and ‘the grace of a shared past.'” —Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred)
“[An] incantatory new novel, in which the landscape of memory is a chiaroscuro in motion and the sightlines are seldom entirely unobstructed...The maudlin and the twee that have tripped up so many others' attempts at Irish-American portraiture are no temptation for McDermott. She does not genuflect, nor does she cling to grievance. She looks with a sharp gaze and a generous spirit, finds multitudes even in a clan's closed air, and tells a clear-eyed, kinder tale.” —Laura Collins-Hughes, The Boston Globe
“Stories of the ordinary become extraordinary...It's easy to understand why McDermott has been a National Book Award winner and Pulitzer finalist for several of her books. Her subtle push to the reader to rely on other senses is brilliant, as her protagonist must do the same. McDermott has a way of transporting a reader not only to see the sights of the city, but also to absorb its heat, smell its food and feel its loss.” —Beth Golay, KMUW Wichita Public Radio
“Alice McDermott is such a pleasure to read. Her new novel, her seventh, extends her outstanding body of work and further cements her stature as one of our finer writers.” —Gordon Houser, The Wichita Eagle
“By presenting Marie's life in gorgeously realized anecdotes, [Someone] makes you understand that you, too, are constantly writing your own life, just as Marie has written hers, and that you might be more ordinary than you usually like to think yourself...[It will] astonish you with its image of the infinite anxiety of the human condition, the precariousness of existence, the difficulty and necessity of loving, the epics and comedies and tragedies and elegies embedded in every mundane, pedestrian life.” —Stephanie Bernhard, Full Stop
“Someone, by Alice McDermott, is a book you will be lost in while the leaves float and swirl about...McDermott is the National Book Award winning author of Charming Billy. This is her first book in seven years and absolutely worth the wait.” —Cathy Daniels, The Lansing State Journal
“Prize-winning author Alice McDermott has two hallmarks as a novelist: First, she writes intimately and well about the Irish Catholic world in which she grew up. Secondly, she uses ordinary people and events to uncover the extraordinary nature of daily existence...In her latest novel, Someone, she flips the tables with an unlikely heroine who finds love despite herself...Someone: It's not just a title, but also a central theme of a novel that looks at the wonders of love and marriage with a discerning eye . . . The most salient quality of the book, and McDermott's work in general, is her ability to capture the spoken and unspoken richness of our most important relationships.” —Ellen Emry Heltzel, The Seattle Times
“There is the temptation, after reading Alice McDermott, to read nothing else for the longest time--to hold every exquisite word of her most exquisite novels in your head...That she exercises patience, compassion and wisdom where others emphasize strut, that she trusts herself with the power of scenes over the inflated intricacies of complicated plot. There is the temptation to use the word 'genius' in association with McDermott's name.” —Beth Kephart, The Baltimore Sun on Child of My Heart
“[A] wondrous new novel...Child of My Heart extends [McDermott's] artistic triumphs, and we should rejoyce.” —Los Angeles Times Book Review on Child of My Heart
“A master...As good as any literary novelist writing today, and when I say that I include the big guns: Russell Banks, Philip Roth, Toni Morrison...All [McDermott's] books mirror the essential truths of existence so sure-handedly that they are neither comedies nor tragedies, but merely true.” —Anna Quindlen on Child of My Heart
“Has something classic about it...[Its] craftsmanship and its moral intelligence are as one...Immaculate.” —The New York Times Book Review on Child of My Heart
“Richly textured, intricately woven...A work not only of, but about, the imagination.” —Margaret Atwood, The New York Review of Books on Child of My Heart
“In a league of her own.” —People on Child of My Heart
“We have echoes and stirrings of Hardy, Shakespeare, Dickens, James, Beatrix Potter, Christina Rosetti...[Theresa] is a vessel containing a multitude of heroines, a transcendence of ethereal beauties who loved and live in the minds of their readers and inventors.” —Chicago Tribune on Child of My Heart
“[A] quietly enchanting novel, graced by McDermott's well-calibrated writing and observant eye... Filled with subtle truths and hard-won wisdom.” —The Charlotte Observer on Child of My Heart
Picador, 9781250055361, 240pp.
Publication Date: October 7, 2014
About the Author
Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com
Why does the memory of Pegeen resonate so profoundly for Marie? Is there a similar story from your youth that has had a lasting effect on your life?
What does Marie’s mother try to teach her about becoming a fulfilled woman? What exceptional qualities does Marie’s father possess? How does their marriage shape Marie’s vision of her future?
Discuss the novel’s Brooklyn neighborhood as if it were a character. What are its most colorful attributes? How is it transformed over the years while Marie grows up? Do its inhabitants support one another, or is their gossip judgmental? Think about their speculation over the gender of Dora Ryan’s spouse and Bill Corrigan’s frailties.
Why does Marie resist her mother’s attempts to urge her to adulthood, from how to read a recipe to the importance of finding a job?
How is Marie able to look past the tragic death of Mrs. Hanson and focus on the loveliness of Gerty and her baby sister, Durna? Throughout her life, what beauty does Marie find in mothering?
What is the role of fate versus free will in Someone? What did Gabe seek and find in religion? What truths about faith did he eventually learn to embrace?
What did Walter Hartnett ultimately get out of his time with Marie? Was she naïve to fall for him, or was he powerfully persuasive? What made Tom Commeford a good match for her?
What does Marie discover about life by working for Mr. Fagin?
Discuss the story of Margaret Tuohy. How was Marie affected by the bishop’s choice of elegant burial clothes for his sister? What did the experience show Marie about the role of the survivor?
As Gabe tells the story of the woman at his first parish who bought mints before attending church each week, what is revealed about the importance of avoiding assumptions? How do perceptions and misperceptions shape the novel’s storyline?
What is the effect of the novel’s first-person narration? As Marie narrates her life, what changes do you notice in her view of the world—literal ones, as she endures eye surgeries, and symbolic ones?
Discuss Marie’s relationship with her own children. What does she do differently from her parents? What traditions does she carry on? How does McDermott capture the revelations that life and loss bring?
How does the depiction of Irish identity and family life in Someone compare to that in similar worlds you’ve explored in other novels by Alice McDermott?