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Summary and book reviews of Someone by Alice McDermott

Someone

by Alice McDermott

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

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Book Reviewed by:
Sharry Wright

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About this Book

Book Summary

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.

ONE

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 ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Why does the memory of Pegeen resonate so profoundly for Marie? Is there a similar story from your youth that has had a lasting effect on your life?
  2. What does Marie's mother try to teach her about becoming a fulfilled woman? What exceptional qualities does Marie's father possess? How does their marriage shape Marie's vision of her future?
  3. Discuss the novel's Brooklyn neighborhood as if it were a character. What are its most colorful attributes? How is it transformed over the years while Marie grows up? Do its inhabitants support one another, or is their gossip judgmental? Think about their speculation over the gender of Dora Ryan's spouse and Bill Corrigan's frailties.
  4. Why does Marie resist her mother'...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

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).

Full Review Members Only (747 words).

Media Reviews
New York Times, Leah Hager Cohen

Each slide, each scene, from the ostensibly inconsequential to the clearly momentous, is illuminated with equal care.... if the definition of what constitutes great literature has been too narrowly perceived, the happy news is that anyone can develop the capacity to see more widely. Reading Someone isn’t a bad way to begin.

NPR, Susan Jane Gilman

But, this book shimmers. There is nothing stale or predictable about it... In Someone, nothing extraordinary happens to an ordinary woman. But McDermott's novel manages to be gripping and resonant. In her own way, she achieves as much as the dazzling, muscular 'hysterical realists.' For she manages to break all the basic rules of writing — only quietly.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. [A] deceptively simple tour de force... in her hands, an uncomplicated life becomes singularly fascinating, revealing the heart of a woman whose defeats make us ache and whose triumphs we cheer.

Booklist

Starred Review. A marvel of subtle modulations, McDermott's keenly observed, fluently humane, quietly enthralling novel of conformity and selfhood, of "lace-curtain pretensions" as shield and camouflage, celebrates family, community, and "the grace of a shared past.

Library Journal

Starred Review. While McDermott's is a quiet style, fans of her earlier work will be thrilled to come across this simple, bittersweet story that will find appeal among readers of Alice Munro and Ann Patchett.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. [O]ne of the author's most trenchant explorations into the heart and soul of the 20th-century Irish-American family.

The Daily Telegraph, Sheena Joughin

To spend time with Alice McDermott’s slim seventh novel is less to read a story than to slip through piercing shifts of emotion as its pages turn... McDermott is an extraordinary writer. This is a beautiful book.

Reader Reviews
Carol

Being Mortal
Thought provoking. A new way of looking at the elderly and honor them rather than just deciding what might be best or possibly convenient for the rest of the family. A must read for anyone with elderly parents, friends, and relatives.

thewanderingjew

From beginning to end, a wonderful journey.
The reader will not want this book to end. It is such a marvelous, easy to read story told through Marie’s memories as she looks back over the years recalling the things that were meaningful in her life. It is told in an uncomplicated, simple, ...   Read More

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Your Brain on Literature

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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