Monday, January 23, 2012

The New Yorker: "Someone" by Alice McDermott

January 30, 2012: “Someone” by Alice McDermott

In the Q&A with Alice McDermott, we learn that this “story” is taken from her novel in progress, which, presumably, is the one the contributor notes tell us is coming out later this year.  Even so, it seems to work very well as a standalone story. It centers on Marie, a young woman in Brooklyn in the 1930s, who begins dating Walter, a man who walks with a limp. They begin to date—Marie’s clueless and Walter imposes himself on her—but things don’t work out.

Early in the story we know Marie doesn’t end up with Walter because she jumps ahead to the point in time where she tells her daughters stories about Walter, to the point that they’re sick of hearing about him. Presumably, in the novel, that’s an important element. In this excerpt we also see Marie’s older brother who has recently resigned the priesthood and moved home. He tries to comfort her after Walter breaks up with her, but he doesn’t do a very good job of it.

The writing is beautiful, as we might expect from McDermott. And for a “short story,” there’s enough plot. I sure hope more is going to happen in the novel, though, because feels like it might be a bit slow. Even McDermott, in the interview, worries about it being a “novel about an unremarkable woman,” and I think she’s right to worry. But she’s been there before and won the National Book Award, so maybe we’re both wrong.


Martina said...

Hm, I just have finished it and now I wonder what made you think the brother didn't do a very good job comforting her - because I thought quite the opposite ;-). The walking, the story of Walter regarding blind Bill, the "Someone will." in the end.
This part with her and her brother talking a walk was the strongest part of this "short story" for me btw.

Unknown said...

Your comment made me go back and reread the ending. First, he says she'll be lucky if that's the worst she tastes of cruelty, meaning there's worse to come in her life. Not very comforting. Then she realizes he bears a vision of a "lost future." She touches him and feels him withdraw from her. And while he says that "someone" will love her, his own aloofness makes this less than convincing.

I agree that the walk was very powerful, but it left me even more depressed than the rest of the story!

Martina said...

Thank you for your response - it's very interesting to see how the same words can convey an absolut contrary reaction with the reader. That forces one to read again and think it over again.
For me, there is a brother who cares, who tries. The atmosphere changed from hazy to clear and sharp: everything will be all right. Some day. ;-) Perhaps I am an optimist ... .
Thanks again :-)

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I could not put this book down, and I was stunned when it ended. I had been living it, breathing it, inhabiting its narrow world. Extraordinary.

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It stands along the great literary works of fiction that I have felt worthwhile on many levels.Character development, historical setting,description - all are used to follow the life of a young girl through her pre-teen years to old age . McDermott's use of flashbacks and the personalities of her characters so involves the reader that it is difficult if not impossible to close the book at the end.

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Through all of life’s disappointments chronicled in this story, McDermott seems to be saying that family provides the stability and strength to see Marie through her life. McDermott is one of my favorite writers and it is always a joy to read her work. “Someone” does not disappoint.