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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Someone by Alice McDermott

Someoneby Alice McDermott
Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux ISBN 978-0-374-28109-0
Hardcover, $25, 240 pages

No one writes about the Irish American experience better than Alice McDermott. Her National Book Award winning novel, Charming Billy, is the perfect example of that.

Her latest novel, Someone, tells the story of Marie, an ordinary Irish American girl growing up in Brooklyn in the 1940s. Marie waits on her stoop everyday for her beloved father to come home from work, watching the activity on the block- the boys playing stickball, Billy Corrigan, blinded from the war, umpiring the game, and the men and women walking home from the subway.

Someone is all about an ordinary life- Marie's life. She goes to Catholic school, has a good friend Gertie, and a brother Gabe who is studying for the priesthood. The book goes back and forth in time, so we see the entirety of Marie's life- childhood, young adulthood, marriage, motherhood, sickness, health, births, deaths, growing old.

One thing that makes Marie stand out is that she has a problem with her eye. It affects not only her vision, but her outward appearance as well. When she finally gets a boyfriend, she feels elated. That balloon is burst when he dumps her for a woman who is prettier and comes from a wealthier family.

The title of the book comes from an exchange she has with her brother over this heartbreak. He tells her that the world is filled with cruelty and when she asks Gabe "Who will love me?", and he says "Someone-someone will."

And someone does. She meets Tom, who was abandoned by his vaudeville parents and nearly became an orphan train boy until a nun sent him to live with her widowed sister who just lost her son in a drowning. They build a life and a family together.

McDermott fills her beautiful novel with quiet moments of life- a mother brushing lint off the jacket of her son in his coffin, waiting to be picked up by family members at the airport, a baby sleeping warmly on his mother's shoulder.

Her language is gorgeous too. She speaks of aging as "a precarious ledge life carried you to, the ledge you lived on when you were an old woman alone, four good children or no." Of her husband, Marie said "he had the kind of face you wanted to put your palm to, like a child's."

After reading Someone, it would hard to pass by a person on the street and not wonder what his life story is. Everyone has a story and Marie was lucky enough to have Alice McDermott conjure up hers. And I was lucky enough to read it. I put Someone on my list of Most Compelling Reads of 2013.

I had the honor of meeting McDermott at the Book Expo of America last year and we chatted about attending SUNY-Oswego, and the snowy, cold weather neither of us misses. In addition to the book, we also received a CD filled with music that corresponds to the book. It is the perfect accompaniment to read with the book.
Alice McDermott signing books at BEA 2013

rating 5 of 5

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