Excerpt from Someone by Alice McDermott, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio


By Alice McDermott

  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • Hardcover: Sep 2013,
    240 pages.
    Paperback: 7 Oct 2014,
    240 pages.

    Publication Information

  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Sharry Wright

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

In the narrow kitchen, standing over the steaming sink, her hands red to the elbow, my mother was unconcerned. "Pegeen Chehab," she said, "has big feet." And girls that age, she said, were always tripping over themselves, looking for boys.

She handed me a wet saucer. I was not yet allowed to dry the dinner plates. The kitchen was warm and close, the one window was steamed, and the pleasant scent in the air was of soap and of the spring sunshine that had dried my mother's apron.

For my mother, who loved romance—especially an American romance, which involved, for her, a miraculous commingling of lives across comically disparate portions of the globe—the marriage of Mr. and Mrs. Chehab was a continual source of wonder and delight. She told the story again: The place where Mr. Chehab was born was called Mount Lebanon, in a country called Syria. A desert, she said. With a desperately hot sun and palm trees and dates and pineapples and sand and—she shrugged a little, her voice suddenly uncertain—a mount, apparently.

She handed me a small drinking glass and said, "Be sure you don't put your hand inside, just the cloth."

His own parents, she said, wrapped him in swaddling clothes and carried him away from that sunny place. They crossed over the Mediterranean Sea. They scaled Spain.

She squinted at the damp tiles above the sink as if a map were drawn there.

They climbed through France, reached Paris, which is called the City of Light, crossed the White Cliffs of Dover—there is a song—got to Liverpool, no doubt, to Dublin, found Cork, as she herself had done when she was seventeen, wearing three skirts and four blouses and carrying only a purse so her stepfather, a terrible man, would not know she was leaving home.

At the harbor, Mr. and Mrs. Chehab found a ship that brought them to Brooklyn. In Brooklyn, they put the baby into a cradle, in the cool corner of a basement bakery on Joralemon Street.

And all the while, my mother said—a trill of profound amusement rising into her voice—in County Clare, Mrs. Chehab—who was a McMahon then—was taking her own first breaths. And shivering, no doubt, in the eternal dampness of that bleak country's bitter air.

My mother looked at me from over her shoulder, her hands still in the sink.

There's a burned taste to the air at home, she said—not for the first time. A taste of wet ashes and doused fire. It can make you believe, she said, that you live in the permanent aftermath of some nearby sorrow. Somewhere in the vicinity, you're always thinking, someone's house has recently burned to the ground.

In that damp and dirty country, my mother said, Mrs. Chehab grew to be a tall girl, a girl who would have no trouble getting up the steep gangplank that led from the dock at Queenstown—a climb my mother herself had struggled with, she said, because of the rain that fell on the day she sailed, because she was alone, with no man's arm to hold on to and none offered across the whole trip, not until my father gave her his on the steps at the Grand Army Plaza.

But Mrs. Chehab would have had no trouble keeping those long feet steady against the slick and pitching floor of the ship that carried her here. Where she stopped at the Syrian bakery one day and saw a small, dark-eyed man behind the counter.

I watched my mother move her hands through the water once more, searching for stray silverware, smiling her sly smile at the delightful oddity of it all. Then she pulled the stopper from the sink, and I closed my eyes and put my fingers in my ears to block out the terrible sound.

When I removed them and opened my eyes, my mother was swabbing the counter. "And after all that," she said, "and after all that, along comes homely Pegeen, with her mother's blotched skin and her father's big nose and those great long feet, God help her."

Excerpted from Someone by Alice McDermott. Copyright © 2013 by Alice McDermott. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  Your Brain on Literature

Member Benefits

Join Now!

Check the advantages!
Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year

    • FREE
    • MEMBER
    • Range of media reviews for each book
    • Excerpts of all featured books
    • Author bios, interviews and pronunciations
    • Browse by genre
    • Book club discussions
    • Book club advice and reading guides
    • BookBrowse reviews and "beyond the book" back-stories
    • Reviews of notable books ahead of publication
    • Free books to read and review (US Only)
    • Browse for the best books by time period, setting & theme
    • Read-alike suggestions for thousands of books and authors
    • 'My Reading List" to keep track of your books
Sign up, win books!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket
    Mrs. Hemingway
    by Naomi Wood
    Naomi Wood's latest novel, Mrs. Hemingway, is a fictionalized biography covering in turn writer...
  • Book Jacket
    The Stranger on the Train
    by Abbie Taylor
    The opening chapter of Abbie Taylor's debut novel, The Stranger on the Train, took me right back to ...
  • Book Jacket
    Night Film
    by Marisha Pessl
    One of the central tenets of Hinduism states that the world as we know it is just an illusion –...

First Impressions

Members read and review books ahead
of publication. See what they think
in First Impressions!

Books that
expand your

Visitors can view a lot of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only

Find out more.

Book Discussions
Book Jacket

The City
by Dean Koontz

Published Jul. 2014

Join the discussion!

  1.  88Tomlinson Hill:
    Chris Tomlinson

All Discussions

Win this book!
Win The Angel of Losses

The Angel of Losses

"Family saga, mystery, and myth intersect in Feldman's debut novel." - Booklist


Word Play

Solve this clue:

E C H A Silver L

and be entered to win..

Books thatinspire you.Handpicked.

Books you'll stay up all night reading; books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, books that will expand your mind and inspire you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.