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The Ninth Hour


A crowning achievement of one of the finest American writers at work today.
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Discuss The Ninth Hour by Alice McDermott:
How did you feel about the sequence of events leading up to Mrs. Costello's death? How soon did you realize what Sally was planning?

Created: 09/01/18

Replies: 12

Posted Sep. 01, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
davinamw

Join Date: 10/15/10

Posts: 1626

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How did you feel about the sequence of events leading up to Mrs. Costello's death? How soon did you realize what Sally was planning?

How did you feel about the sequence of events leading up to Mrs. Costello's death? How soon did you realize what Sally was planning? What does Sister Jeanne mean when she tells Sally, "God is fair. He knows the truth"?


Posted Sep. 02, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
catherynez

Join Date: 01/27/18

Posts: 16

RE: How did you feel about the sequence of events leading up to Mrs. Costello's death? How soon did you realize what Sally was planning?

I caught on when she went back to visit Mrs. Costello. I recognized a few hints earlier but didn’t think much about them until she was preparing the tea for her. I thought Sally thought they would be better off without Mrs. Costello after Mrs. Costello treated her poorly on the last day she helped her. I think Sister Jeanne was trying to encourage Sally and help her to not feel guilty about what she did. I was suprised that Sally poisoned Mrs. Costello.


Posted Sep. 02, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
veronicaj

Join Date: 05/25/17

Posts: 13

RE: How did you feel about the sequence of events leading up to Mrs. Costello's death? How soon did you realize what Sally was planning?

It seemed extreme. Murder is a tough sell when you are raised Catholic. You might wish/want someone dead but the deed itself is out of reach.


Posted Sep. 02, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
sweeney

Join Date: 05/24/11

Posts: 87

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RE: How did you feel about the sequence of events leading up to Mrs. Costello's death? How soon did you realize what Sally was planning?

I was not surprised at Sally's actions, and frankly I had not sympathy for mrs Costello at all. I was surprised that sister Jeanne was willing to cover up an action of that magnitude.


Posted Sep. 03, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
scgirl

Join Date: 06/05/18

Posts: 59

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RE: How did you feel about the sequence of events leading up to Mrs. Costello's death? How soon did you realize what Sally was planning?

I found it interesting that Sally, while shocked by what she walked in on at her mother's house, was so determined that her mother find happiness that she considered murder. The fact that Mrs. Costello was so abusive probably made it easier.

So did Sally really kill Mrs. Costello or did she choke on a large piece of apple in the applesauce Sr. Jeanne gave her? I guess we will really never know except that Sr. Jeanne said it wasn't her fault.


Posted Sep. 03, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
susiej

Join Date: 10/15/14

Posts: 167

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RE: How did you feel about the sequence of events leading up to Mrs. Costello's death? How soon did you realize what Sally was planning?

I think I'm pretty much in agreement with you, scgirl. After her trip to Chicago, her discovery of the real world so to speak, and her desire for her mother to have some sort of settled, loving life - Mrs. Costello's rough treatment of her may have made it an easy decision to take some action on her own. So I was not surprised when she made the tea. I am pretty convinced, however, that it was the apple chunk and not the tea that did the old woman in - and Sister Jeanne can easily console Sally - for she knows what happened, and after all, "God is fair. He knows the truth."


Posted Sep. 03, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
joanr

Join Date: 04/25/12

Posts: 39

RE: How did you feel about the sequence of events leading up to Mrs. Costello's death? How soon did you realize what Sally was planning?

I think that Sally is convinced that her mother is living in mortal sin and if she died, she'd go to hell. So Sally decides that it is up to her to save her mother. As Sally thinks, "Someone had to do penance for her, for the sin she would not give up. Who else but the daughter who loved her above everything?" Sally's penance was going to be taking care of Mrs. Costello, but after a particularly difficult visit, Sally "felt the weight of her desertion. She had failed in her fine intentions once again." Sally comes to believe that Mrs. Costello stands in the way of her mother's place in heaven and so Sally decides to kill Mrs. Costello: "Her plan was to exchange her own immortal soul for her mother's mortal happiness." Sr. Jeanne figures out the plan and steps in to save Sally by feeding Mrs. Costello the lumpy apple sauce that we heard so much about throughout the book. And that's why I think Sr. Jeanne says that she lost heaven.


Posted Sep. 03, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
wandak

Join Date: 04/11/18

Posts: 10

RE: How did you feel about the sequence of events leading up to Mrs. Costello's death? How soon did you realize what Sally was planning?

I think it’s a difficult decision but Sally thought she could save her mother


Posted Sep. 06, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
celiaarnaud

Join Date: 04/18/12

Posts: 45

RE: How did you feel about the sequence of events leading up to Mrs. Costello's death? How soon did you realize what Sally was planning?

I got the first inkling on page 212 when Sally thought that if Mrs. Costello had died in her chair that afternoon, her mother would be free to marry. But I really knew when she had a handkerchief of alum in her purse. There had been a description earlier of the boy who almost died from ingesting alum, so it didn’t take much to figure out what she intended.

The thing that most surprised me was that Sister Jeanne didn’t reveal what she knew. Even though Sally poisoned Mrs. Costello, it seems that didn’t recognize at first when she was dead.

About Sally trying to take on her mother’s sin, I think that’s true. And despite being surprised by Jeanne not telling, I think that she in turn was trying to take on Sally’s sin.


Posted Sep. 09, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
reene

Join Date: 02/18/15

Posts: 312

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RE: How did you feel about the sequence of events leading up to Mrs. Costello's death? How soon did you realize what Sally was planning?

If Sister Jeanne was trying to take on Sally's sin, then I feel she was as confused about God and sin as poor Sally was. Sally was a child who was raised in the basement of a convent, she knew very little about the real world. Sally thought she could save her mother from going to hell. Sally's idea of marriage had been very colored by Sister Lucy's description of the horrors of Men and marriage. Sister Jeanne knew that she had killed Mrs Costello by choking her with the applesauce. She did nothing to stop the choking and even stopped Sally from stepping in. Yes, she did it out of love, but she should have confessed her sin to Sally rather than let the poor child go through life thinking she had murdered the woman.
There were hints dropped throughout the book that Sally had a distorted idea of life, religion, marriage. I think she decided when she saw the alum on the shelf in the basement and rushed Sister Illuminata up the steps to prayer, something Sister rarely did. She remembered the story of the child and she made her plan, however she never gave Mrs. Costello enough of the alum to kill her.


Posted Sep. 13, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
tswaine

Join Date: 09/14/11

Posts: 48

RE: How did you feel about the sequence of events leading up to Mrs. Costello's death? How soon did you realize what Sally was planning?

I had an idea that Sally was up to something when she had the alum in her purse and she had learned earlier about the boy who almost died from ingesting it. Sally wanted her mother to be free to be with Mr. Costello and since Mrs. Costello didn't have a great quality of life, Sally thought it wouldn't be bad to put her out of her misery.


Posted Sep. 15, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
jeanettel

Join Date: 01/05/12

Posts: 59

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RE: How did you feel about the sequence of events leading up to Mrs. Costello's death? How soon did you realize what Sally was planning?

Mrs Costello was a mean spirited woman who enjoyed demeaning the nuns who were there to help her. Sally adored her mother and understood that her soul would not be saved if she died in mortal sin as she was living. Sally had a curious mind, first she noticed the bottle with the skull and the crossbones in Sister Illuminata's basement in a top shelf which the Sister used for some of the laundry, she saw a similar bottle
in the laundry in the basement of the hotel and restaurant where she worked. I think that is when she first thought to give it to Mrs Costello, this way she would help her end her miserable life and at the same time she would save her mother's soul as now she could marry Mr. Costello.


Posted Oct. 09, 2018 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
valeriem

Join Date: 10/09/18

Posts: 1

RE: How did you feel about the sequence of events leading up to Mrs. Costello's death? How soon did you realize what Sally was planning?

What I felt in the moment was that adult daughters, at some point, most reconcile the mother they know with the woman they have ignored. And so like many of us, Sally had to choose. Did the mother she love deserve mercy? Or, did the mother she dislike earn rebuke? Sally's childishness was particularly searing after finding out her mother had a lover. Her grace felt equally immature too, as if she needed to be heroic, to bestow upon her mother a gift, not for her mother's sake but for her own. So she could be the center.
In a story of pious and committed women which I could relate to given my own family background, Mrs. Costello was an outlier. She was hardly sympathetic and the plan to kill her was not tragic. Mrs. Costello was pretty unlikeable in a real world way that you can understand, like you know people like Mrs. Costello. I do.
Mrs. Costello was a stereotype, the insufferable wife, harsh but effective, her lump of a self wasting away. It made the plan perfect. Give her mother happiness. Give Mrs. Costello freedom. For Sally it made sense too and there was one final twist. By killing Mrs. Costello power was assigned to Sally once more. It was a baptism, not by fire, but by water. She was no longer the sad girl who failed at being a nun. She was no longer the fatherless daughter. She was no longer shamed by her mother's sin. She had a covenant now. Finally. It was very Christian ethic. The suffering of one for the resurrection of another. Sally was her most pious and nun like as she executed her plan. Because, as was written, God is fair.


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