Summary and book reviews of The Ninth Hour by Alice McDermott

The Ninth Hour

A Novel

by Alice McDermott

The Ninth Hour by Alice McDermott X
The Ninth Hour by Alice McDermott
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2017, 256 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2018, 256 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Lisa Butts

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About this Book

Book Summary

Rendered with remarkable lucidity and intelligence, Alice McDermott's The Ninth Hour is a crowning achievement of one of the finest American writers at work today

On a dim winter afternoon, a young Irish immigrant opens the gas taps in his Brooklyn tenement. He is determined to prove - to the subway bosses who have recently fired him, to his badgering, pregnant wife - "that the hours of his life belong to himself alone." In the aftermath of the fire that follows, Sister St. Savior, an aging nun, a Little Sister of the Sick Poor, appears, unbidden, to direct the way forward for his widow and his unborn child.

In Catholic Brooklyn, in the early part of the twentieth century, decorum, superstition, and shame collude to erase the man's brief existence, and yet his suicide, although never spoken of, reverberates through many lives - testing the limits and the demands of love and sacrifice, of forgiveness and forgetfulness, even through multiple generations.

These Short Dark Days

FEBRUARY 3 WAS A DARK AND DANK DAY altogether: cold spitting rain in the morning and a low, steel-gray sky the rest of the afternoon.

At four, Jim convinced his wife to go out to do her shopping before full darkness fell. He closed the door on her with a gentle wave. His hair was thinning and he was missing a canine on the right side, but he was nevertheless a handsome man who, at thirty-two, might still have passed for twenty. Heavy brows and deep-set, dark-lashed eyes that had been making women catch their breath since he was sixteen. Even if he had grown bald and toothless, as he seemed fated to do, the eyes would have served him long into old age.

His overcoat was on the hall tree beside the door. He lifted it and rolled it lengthwise against his thighs. Then he fitted it over the threshold, tucking the cloth of the sleeves and the hem as well as he could into the space beneath the door. Theirs was a railroad flat: kitchen in the back, dining room, living room, ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. How does Annie choose to remember her husband, Jim? How is his daughter, Sally, like him? Do you relate to the grandchildren's response when they finally learn the truth about his death?
  2. How does the work that Sisters Lucy, Jeanne and Illuminata choose suit their individual talents and personalities? How do they differ in their beliefs about God and faith, sin and human weakness? Which of the three perspectives do you feel most drawn to?
  3. What did you think about McDermott's theme relating to the wisdom imparted by the older characters to the young? For example, Sister St. Savior becomes an invaluable mentor to Annie when she is newly widowed, and all of the Sisters jointly help raise Sally. How did the disconnect between...
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

Here are some of the comments posted about The Ninth Hour.
You can see the full discussion here.


Did you find Mrs. Costello to be a sympathetic character or did you merely pity her? How was Sally changed by her death?
Mrs. Costello was not and could not be a sympathetic character. Only by disliking her, once we learn her true personality, can we forgive Mr. Costello, Annie and even Sally and Sister Jeanne. - paulagb

How are Liz's beliefs and the practice of her faith different from Annie's, and how do they make this friendship work? Do you have friendships like this in your life?
I think Liz's beliefs actually personify what the Catholic church preaches (not necessarily practices) in that Liz is faithful and keeps to the traditions but doesn't judge Annie when she develops a relationship with Mr. Costello. Similar to Sr. ... - scgirl

How did the Sisters' religious faith help them when serving the community? Why do you suppose Sally has trouble incorporating this level of faith into her own life?
Sally was raised in the religious community. She did not live “in the world” really so she had no idea what choices might be available to her. The act of choosing convent life was not the same for her as it was for the actual sisters who helped ... - paulagb

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... - jeanettel

How did you feel reading about Sally's experience on the train ride to Chicago? How was she changed by the events that occurred there? Could you relate to her revulsion or did you find her response dramatic?
I agree with everyone, Sally's life was so sheltered that she thought being a nun was her destiny until she encountered all the ugly and mean people on the train ride to Chicago. That is when the truth hit her in the face and she could not stand it, ... - jeanettel

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

McDermott, a National Book Award winner, excels at the quietly potent story where small moments build into something greater. The Ninth Hour is a novel about grace, family, sacrifice, and duty, how some serve God by serving other people, and how the idea of transcendence makes the earthly world bearable.   (Reviewed by Lisa Butts).

Full Review (562 words).

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Media Reviews

The Millions
A generational novel sure to appeal to longtime McDermott fans, and to bring-in new readers as well.

Kirkus Reviews
Starred Review. Everything that her readers, the National Book Award committee, and the Pulitzer Prize judges love about McDermott's (Someone, 2013, etc.) stories of Irish-Catholic American life is back in her eighth novel.

Booklist
Starred Review. McDermott’s extraordinary precision, compassion, and artistry are entrancing and sublime. . . This is one of literary master McDermott’s most exquisite works.

Library Journal
Starred Review. In lucid, flowing prose, McDermott weaves her character’ stories to powerful effect. Highly recommended.

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. McDermott delivers an immense, brilliant novel about the limits of faith, the power of sacrifice, and the cost of forgiveness.

Reader Reviews

bridgnut

The Ninth Hour
At first I thought this was a religious book but I feel it was about how you live your life. The nuns were all different so you could associate with them in your own life. The author writes great descriptions about everything. Phrases I liked....   Read More

Kate Collins

A GREAT STORY.
Aside from all other wonderfully wrought considerations it is a thrilling story of life abounding which I told twice in the one day I finished the book. It is really thrilling.

susan

"and then she thought better of it."
The Ninth Hour begins with Jim's suicide and though he is gone and is only briefly introduced to us (the readers) he permeates the story line. His widow is given a job as an assistant laundress by the Sisters and his daughter grows up in the convent...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

The Little Sisters of the Poor and Sister St. Jeanne Jugan

The nuns in The Ninth Hour belong to an order that appears to be similar to the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order with humble beginnings, founded by Sister St. Jeanne Jugan, also known as Sister Mary of the Cross. Jugan was born in Brittany, France in 1792, amid the hardships of the French Revolution, a time when Catholics were being persecuted. Her mother provided her with religious instruction in secret, and Jeanne joined the Third Order of St. John Eudes where she worked as a nurse.

Sister St. Jeanne Jugan In the winter of 1839, Jeanne had a fortuitous encounter with an ailing elderly woman named Anne Chauvin. Seeing the woman was badly in need of care, Jeanne brought her home to her own apartment, which she shared with two other women. From that day ...

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