An ordinary life - its sharp pains and unexpected joys, its bursts of clarity and moments of confusion - lived by an ordinary woman: This is a novel that speaks of life as it is daily lived, a crowning achievement by one of the finest American writers at work today.
An ordinary life - its sharp pains and unexpected joys, its bursts of clarity and moments of confusion - lived by an ordinary woman: this is the subject of Someone, Alice McDermott's extraordinary return, seven years after the publication of After This. Scattered recollections - of childhood, adolescence, motherhood, old age - come together in this transformative narrative, stitched into a vibrant whole by McDermott's deft, lyrical voice.
Our first glimpse of Marie is as a child: a girl in glasses waiting on a Brooklyn stoop for her beloved father to come home from work. A seemingly innocuous encounter with a young woman named Pegeen sets the bittersweet tone of this remarkable novel. Pegeen describes herself as an "amadan," a fool; indeed, soon after her chat with Marie, Pegeen tumbles down her own basement stairs. The magic of McDermott's novel lies in how it reveals us all as fools for this or that, in one way or another.
Marie's first heartbreak and her eventual marriage; her brother's brief stint as a Catholic priest, subsequent loss of faith, and eventual breakdown; the Second World War; her parents' deaths; the births and lives of Marie's children; the changing world of her Irish-American enclave in Brooklyn - McDermott sketches all of it with sympathy and insight. This is a novel that speaks of life as it is daily lived; a crowning achievement by one of the finest American writers at work today.
Pegeen Chehab walked up from the subway in the evening light. Her good spring coat was powder blue; her shoes were black and covered the insteps of her long feet. Her hat was beige with something dark along the crown, a brown feather or two. There was a certain asymmetry to her shoulders. She had a loping, hunchbacked walk. She had, always, a bit of black hair along her cheek, straggling to her shoulder, her bun coming undone. She carried her purse in the lightest clasp of her fingers, down along the side of her leg, which made her seem listless and weary even as she covered the distance quickly enough, the gray sidewalk from subway to parlor floor and basement of the house next door.
I was on the stoop of my own house, waiting for my father. Pegeen paused to say hello.
She was not a pretty girl particularly; there was a narrowness to her eyes and a wideness to her jaw, crooked teeth, wild eyebrows, and a faint mustache. She had her Syrian father's thick dark hair, but ...
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.
(Reviewed by Sharry Wright).
Reading quiet, literary fiction, like Someone, nudges us towards contemplation and self-examination. But according to a recent study conducted at the New School for Social Research in New York, it may do even more. This much-publicized study, "Reading Literary Fiction Improves Theory of Mind," concludes that reading literary fiction can better the ability to "read" the thoughts and feelings of others. The researchers, Ph.D candidate David Comer Kidd; and professor of psychology, Emanuele Castano; suggest that this is achieved by an increase in empathy and the ability to recognize and share the feelings of others.
But first, perhaps, we should try to define the somewhat ambiguous line between literary and popular fiction. Castano ...
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