I heard Alice McDermott read from this book before it was published, at Sewanee in the summer of 2006. I’d read a couple of her earlier books and she joked that she was still writing about Long Island, and in fact this book is about yet another Irish Catholic family on the island.
You might even say the family is the point of view of the story, which begins at the end of World War II when Mary meets and marries a veteran, John Keane. Time passes and they have children and the children grow up. Mary hardly seems to change but John gets older, has a problem with his back, worries about not being around to see his youngest get married. One of the boys, who seemed like he might be headed for trouble, goes to college and becomes a teacher. The other, who seemed destined for more, is drafted and gets sent to Vietnam. One of the girls studies in England and meets a boy there. The younger girl meets a college boy and it turns out that John does get to see her wedding. All of which strikes me as terribly ordinary.
The only thing really interesting in the story is Pauline, Mary spinster friend who has something of a nervous breakdown. But while she’s a presence, she doesn’t occupy much of the book.
I had high hopes at first because there is some beautiful writing, but that just isn’t enough to rescue a really ordinary tale.