Tuesday, December 3, 2013


Alice McDermott published her first novels in the 1980s, her two best novels in the 1990s, and then in the new century more novels. Someone, her seventh, might be proof of Willa Cather's remark that, as a writer, "you can't grow if you keep repeating yourself."

McDermott established a reputation for plain and powerful diction, an ear for Irish-American idiom, and an eye for the struggles of underdogs in the American race for success. Those strengths are not absent from the new novel: "My fear was that when I saw Gerty again she would resemble the neglected kids at school  kids with musty hair and black fingernails, with fallen hems and caramel-colored plugs of wax in their ears."

The articulate, narrow viewpoint of McDermott's first-person narrator bobs among the middle decades of the twentieth century, echoing or disputing received opinion. To what purpose?  I'm not sure, except that the tone of the book lavishes approval on the protagonist, who is also the storyteller. To me, what this character seemed to be narrating was an insufficient understanding of her own life and of the lives around her, using impossibly eloquent language.