BookBrowse Reviews Someone by Alice McDermott

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Someone

by Alice McDermott

Someone by Alice McDermott
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Sep 2013, 240 pages
    Paperback:
    Oct 2014, 240 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Sharry Wright

Buy This Book

About this Book

Reviews

BookBrowse:


In distilled and measured prose, Alice McDermott's Someone reminds us that every life lived is a thing of beauty and that there is much to appreciate in the smallest of everyday rituals.

When I recommend a book that I enjoyed, one of the first questions people ask is: "What is it about?" I feel like I have about thirty seconds to make my case before they decide if they want to read it or not. Now if I were to tell you that I'd just read a very quiet book about the life of an ordinary woman where nothing very dramatic happens, I bet most of you would shake your head and skip to the next review. But wait. I know it might be hard to convince you that Alice McDermott's Someone is a worthwhile and rewarding read, but I'm going to try. Because it is.

Marie narrates her own story in first person, starting with her childhood and taking the reader through her unexceptional life, rendering the intricately observed details, the tasks and daily rituals—bathing, shopping at the deli, learning to bake bread, sharing family meals—with a rare, crystalline precision and in doing so, lifting them up and beyond the ordinary drudge. It is through this rendering that we come to see the ordinary moments in our own lives as vivid and precious.

The story starts in Brooklyn in the 1930s. Marie lives with her lower middle class Irish-American Catholic family—her mother, father and older brother Gabe, a candidate for the priesthood. Here, she describes herself: "At seven, I was a shy child, and comical looking, with a round flat face and black slits for eyes, thick glasses, black bangs, a straight and serious mouth—a little girl cartoon."

The story toggles back and forth in time, beginning with childhood then venturing ahead to future moments that tie in. The moments that McDermott chooses to represent Marie's life are fascinating. Connected to an event before or after, these vignettes keep the story from feeling episodic (as linear life stories can feel) so we come to see the patterns of sorrow and compassion, the redemption even in the brokenness and fragility of life. For instance, we see Marie married with adult children well before she has shown us the heartbreak of her first lost love. The details of her life continue to be shuffled as we go from her wedding night to the nursing home where she lives as a very old woman; and likewise from the birth of her first child, to when the doctor tells her she can never have more children. But by then, we already know she has had three more. Later, looking back at the time soon after the birth of their first child, we hear Marie tell her husband that the doctor's words had not made her afraid: "I had conceived our first child without any notion of the suffering involved. Now that I knew, desire—which was still there, of course—seemed small enough incentive to conceive again. It was courage now that was delightful to me."

Reading Someone, I was often reminded of the way poets make the ordinary, extraordinary through pristine observation. I'm not talking about the kind of poems that speak in abstractions or obscurities, but those that speak like prayers of gratitude. Because at times the quiet and observant prose comes across as a sort of prayer, giving thanks for the everyday blessings of an unremarkable life.

Sight is a major theme woven throughout – from Marie's thick glasses, to a later detached retina and the resulting experience with total blindness in the hospital room, to cataract surgery as an elderly woman. Marie is nearly blind, yet sees so much—perhaps by paying close attention to details. Her understanding of things goes in and out of focus. As in real life, many insights are withheld until late in the story. For instance, as a teen, we see her stubborn refusal to learn how to cook, how to make bread, but it isn't until the end that we learn the poignancy of the reason.

I have to admit that there were times when Someone read as a bit of a cautionary tale—"do not live your life in such a passive, apathetic way." At the same time, it is thoroughly validating and lovely to know that upon examination, even an unexceptional life, no matter how ordinary, is of value. The title itself says so much—it reminds us that everyone is someone. We see that Marie loves her ordinary life as she says: "It was a homely room...Were I to dream again, I would dream myself into this room, at this hour. I would take the fading cushion beside me."

Reviewed by Sharry Wright

This review was originally published in November 2013, and has been updated for the October 2014 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.



This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
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

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten!

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Ninth Hour
    The Ninth Hour
    by Alice McDermott
    In a pivotal scene in The Ninth Hour, young Sally encounters an increasingly loathsome series of ...
  • Book Jacket: Rebellion
    Rebellion
    by Molly Patterson
    Rebellion overlays the stories of four women, spanning a century and the globe in their wide ...
  • Book Jacket: Genuine Fraud
    Genuine Fraud
    by E Lockhart
    Do we ever really know who our friends are? Or what the truth is? After all, truth, like beauty is ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

An eye-opening and riveting look at how how medicine can not only improve life but also the process of its ending.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    The Twelve-Mile Straight
    by Eleanor Henderson

    An audacious epic set in rural Georgia during the years of the Depression and Prohibition.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    Love and Other Consolation Prizes
    by Jamie Ford

    Inspired by a true story, about a boy whose life is transformed at Seattle's epic 1909 World's Fair.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win If the Creek Don't Rise

If the Creek Don't Rise

A debut novel bursting with heart, honesty, and homegrown grit.

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

Y Can't M A S P O O A S E

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

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

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.