The Ninth Hour
October 2017 Indie Next List
— Lori Feathers, Interabang Books, Dallas, TX
View the List
Winter 2018 Reading Group Indie Next List
— Ezra Goldstein, Community Bookstore, Brooklyn, NY
View the List
From National Book Award-winner and Pulitzer Prize Finalist Alice McDermott, The Ninth Hour is the critically-acclaimed “haunting and vivid portrait of an Irish Catholic clan in early twentieth century America” (The Associated Press).
One of TIME Magazine's Top Ten Novels of the Year
A 2017 Kirkus Prize Finalist
A New York Times Book Review Notable Book
On a dim winter afternoon, a young Irish immigrant opens a gas tap in his Brooklyn tenement. He is determined to prove—to the subway bosses who have recently fired him, to his pregnant wife—that “the hours of his life . . . belonged to himself alone.” In the aftermath of the fire that follows, Sister St. Saviour, an aging nun, a Little Nursing Sister of the Sick Poor, appears, unbidden, to direct the way forward for his widow and his unborn child.
In Catholic Brooklyn in the early part of the twentieth century, decorum, superstition, and shame collude to erase the man’s brief existence, and yet his suicide, though never spoken of, reverberates through many lives—testing the limits and the demands of love and sacrifice, of forgiveness and forgetfulness, even through multiple generations. Rendered with remarkable delicacy, heart, and intelligence, Alice McDermott’s The Ninth Hour is a crowning achievement of one of the finest American writers at work today.
Praise For The Ninth Hour: A Novel…
New York Times Book Review's 100 Notable Books of 2017
The Washington Post's 50 Notable Works of Fiction 2017
The Wall Street Journal's Top 10 Novels of 2017
Time Magazine's Top 10 Novels of 2017
NPR's Best Books of 2017
Kirkus Reviews' Best Fiction & Best Historical Fiction of 2017
Library Journal's Top 10 Novels of 2017
“McDermott has extended her range and deepened it, allowing for more darkness, more generous lashings of the spiritual . . . Vivid and arresting . . . Marvelously evocative.” —Mary Gordon, The New York Times Book Review
“Beautifully observed, quietly absorbing . . . This enveloping novel, too, is a tonic, if not a cure.” —Heller McAlpin, NPR
“[T]he precision of a master . . . [A] great novel.” —The Wall Street Journal
“Stunning… McDermott has created a haunting and vivid portrait of an Irish Catholic clan in early 20th century America.” —The Associated Press
“Brilliant… perhaps her finest work to date.” —Michael Magras, The Houston Chronicle
“A remarkable snapshot of early 20th-century Irish-Catholic Brooklyn.” —Entertainment Weekly
“[B]eautifully crafted . . . McDermott illuminates everyday scenes with such precise, unadorned descriptions that the reader feels he or she is there, hidden in the background . . . [Everything] is treated with McDermott’s exquisite language, tinged with her signature wit…. [A] novel to savor and to share.” —Bookpage
“McDermott is a poet of corporeal description . . . it's the way she marries the spirit to the physical world that makes her work transcendent . . . The Ninth Hour is a story with the simple grace of a votive candle in a dark church.” —Sarah Begley, Time
"In this enveloping, emotionally intricate, suspenseful drama, McDermott lures readers into her latest meticulously rendered Irish American enclave. . . Like Alice Munro, McDermott is profoundly observant and mischievously witty, a sensitive and consummate illuminator of the realization of the self, the ravages of illness and loss, and the radiance of generosity. . . McDermott’s extraordinary precision, compassion, and artistry are entrancing and sublime. . . This is one of literary master McDermott’s most exquisite works." —Donna Seaman, Booklist, starred review
“This seamlessly written new work from National Book Award winner McDermott asks how much we owe others, how much we owe ourselves, and, of course, McDermott’s consistent attention to the Catholic faith, how much we owe God . . . In lucid, flowing prose, McDermott weaves her character’ stories to powerful effect. Highly recommended.” —Library Journal, starred review
“McDermott delivers an immense, brilliant novel about the limits of faith, the power of sacrifice, and the cost of forgiveness . . . It’s the thread that follows Sally’s coming of age and eventual lapse of faith that is the most absorbing. Scenes detailing her benevolent encounters . . . are paradoxically grotesque and irresistible . . . McDermott exhibits a keen eye for character." —Publishers Weekly, starred review
“Everything that her readers, the National Book Award committee, and the Pulitzer Prize judges love about McDermott’s stories of Irish-Catholic American life is back.” —Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“The Ninth Hour by Alice McDermott: National Book Award winner McDermott is simply one of the finest living Catholic writers, and her new novel looks to capture the spirit of her previous work: families and cultures strained by the optimism of faith tempered by the suffering of reality. ... A generational novel sure to appeal to longtime McDermott fans, and to bring-in new readers as well.” —The Millions
“Extraordinary . . . Astonishing . . . Compelling . . . Surely there has never been as strong and clear-eyed a novel about kindness as Alice McDermott’s The Ninth Hour . . . McDermott is yet again at the height of her formidable powers. This work of art comes to us at a time when, as much as ever, we need a call to compassion.” —East Hampton Star
“Any good and proper Most-Anticipated-Fiction list of mine will always start with Alice McDermott.” —The Quivering Pen
“McDermott [is] the master of understated storytelling.” —Washington Independent Review of Books
Publishers Weekly Top 10 Literary Fiction Picks for Fall 2017
Excerpted in The New Yorker
PRAISE FOR ALICE MCDERMOTT
“McDermott has the soul of an archaeologist—excavating shards of the daily routine, closely examining the cracks and crevices of the human heart.” —O Magazine
“Exquisite. . . deft. . . filled with so much universal experience, such haunting imagery, such urgent matters of life and death.” —The New York Times
“Packed with complexity and emotion” —The Washington Post
“Filled with subtle insights and abundant empathy and grace.” —USA Today
“Lyrical study of quotidian life. . . McDermott manages to write lyrically in plain language, she is able to find the drama in uninflected experience.” —Los Angeles Times
“With virtuosic concision, McDermott assembles this swirl of seemingly mundane anecdotes into a powerful examination of love, mortality, and ‘the way of all flesh.’” —The New Yorker
"The micropoetry elevates the book from a gently story to a multilayered Our Town-like tale.” —People
“Each slide, each scene, from the ostensibly inconsequential to the clearly momentous, is illuminated with equal care.” —The New York Times Book Review
“The landscape of memory is a chiaroscuro in motion.” —Boston Globe
“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.” —Maureen Corrigan, Fresh Air, NPR
“Extraordinary art woven out of ordinary lives.” —The Quivering Pen
“Gripping and resonant. . . In her own way, she achieves as much as the dazzling, muscular ‘hysterical realists.’ For she manages to break all the basic rules of writing—only quietly.” —NPR
“Almost without exception, each moment . . . is so thoroughly mined so that every story, nearly every thought it seems, reveals the true complexity of our lives.” —The Coffin Factory
“[McDermott] is a sublime artist of the quotidian.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“In beautifully understated language and an unerringly nimble free-associative narrative, McDermott weaves such an intimate complex life study that we feel each . . . accumulating loss until they become staggering.” —Elle
Picador, 9781250192745, 256pp.
Publication Date: September 4, 2018
About the Author
Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com
1. Despite his suicide in the opening pages, Annie’s husband, Jim, remains a presence throughout The Ninth Hour. He abandons his pregnant wife and defies the tenets of his faith to prove that “the hours of his life . . . belonged to himself alone.” How does Annie choose to remember him? How is his daughter, Sally, like him? When his grandchildren finally learn the truth about his death, what is their response?
2. How did Sister Lucy, Sister Jeanne, and Sister Illuminata each come to the convent of the Little Nursing Sisters of the Sick Poor, Congregation of Mary Before the Cross? How does the work each of them chose suit their talents and personalities? How do they differ in their beliefs about God and faith, sin and human weakness?
3. What wisdom do the old impart to the young? What is gained when older and younger characters connect with each other, as Sister St. Saviour with Annie when she is newly widowed? What is lost when they fail to connect, as Patrick Tierney’s father and grandfather?
4. Who are the people and what are the events that influence Sally’s character, values, and beliefs as she grows into adulthood? How is the girl who left for Chicago to enter the convent different from the girl who returns home the next day? What happens that changes her? What does she still have to learn that the nuns can’t teach her?
5. Sally and Patrick are infants the first time we see them together. Their mothers were introduced by Sister Lucy. Patrick has jokingly told his children that when he saw their mother riding in her baby carriage, he immediately said to himself, “There’s the girl I’ll marry.” Over the years, how do Annie and Liz Tierney support each other? As a young girl, how does Sally feel about Liz’s household? What kind of man is Patrick?
6. The Ninth Hour is as much a series of linked stories as it is one story told chronologically. How do the individual stories deal with themes such as truth, faith, motherhood, love, and sacrifice? What is the Ninth Hour, and how is it observed in the convent? What is its biblical meaning? Why might Alice McDermott have chosen it as her title?
7. The full name of the order to which the sisters belong and that Sally decides to join is the Little Nursing Sisters of the Sick Poor, Congregation of Mary Before the Cross, Stabat Mater. To Sister Jeanne, Stabat Mater symbolizes the triumph of love over brutality. To Sister Illuminata, it means that love applied to suffering is “like a clean cloth to a seeping wound.” Why is “Stabat Mater” the title of the chapter about Sally coming home from Chicago and discovering the truth about Annie and Mr. Costello?
8. What do we know about Sally and Patrick’s married life? What strengths and faults have each of them brought to their life together? What do we know about the lives of their children? Sister Jeanne remains close to the family into her old age. What is the “pernt” of the story she tells about Jeanne Jugan? What else does she teach the Tierney children?
9. In contrast to Sister Jeanne, Sister Lucy seems skeptical, pragmatic, and often disgruntled. “All joy was thin ice to Sister Lucy,” McDermott writes. But Sister Lucy is also a skilled nurse and a fierce advocate of people who are poor, sick, or mistreated. What does Sally learn from Sister Lucy, not only about nursing, but also about the human capacity for cruelty and kindness?
10. Who is Red Whelan? How does his fate reverberate down through the generations of the Tierney family? What are other examples of sacrifice?
11. Liz and Annie become close friends when their children are small, yet their lives are very different. What kind of Catholic is Liz Tierney? What is her opinion of the nuns? How are her beliefs and the practice of her faith not like Annie’s?
12. Sister Jeanne teaches the Tierney children that “God wants us to know the truth in all things,” yet there are many parts of their family story they do not know the truth about. Who are the truth tellers in the book? Who lies, embellishes, or withholds the truth? How does the family’s story change as it is told and retold? How might Patrick and Sally each tell the story of the day they fell in love?
13. What do the other characters think about Annie’s relationship with Mr. Costello? Why is she not dismissed from the convent laundry when the nuns learn of what they call her “indiscretion?” What are the different kinds of “hunger” in the chapter “A Tonic”? What is the tonic?
14. Is Mrs. Costello a pathetic or a sympathetic character? How does Sister Lucy feel about her? What are Sally’s motives for choosing to spend time with her? How is Sally changed by her death?
15. What is the sequence of events leading up to Mrs. Costello’s death? Does Sister Lucy believe that the nuns were doing the right thing by keeping her alive when she wanted to die? What does Sister Jeanne mean when she tells Sally, “God is fair. He knows the truth.” Why, years later, does Sister Jeanne tell Sally’s children that she has “lost heaven”?