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
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  • Published:
    Sep 2017, 256 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Lisa Butts

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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. Despite his suicide in the opening pages, Annie's husband, Jim, remains a presence throughout The Ninth Hour. He abandons his pregnant wife and defies the tenets of his faith to prove that "the hours of his life . . . belonged to himself alone." How does Annie choose to remember him? How is his daughter, Sally, like him? When his grandchildren finally learn the truth about his death, what is their response?
  2. How did Sister Lucy, Sister Jeanne, and Sister Illuminata each come to the convent of the Little Nursing Sisters of the Sick Poor, Congregation of Mary Before the Cross? How does the work each of them chose suit their talents and personalities? How do they differ in their beliefs about God and faith, sin and human weakness?
  3. What ...
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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).

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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

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.

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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 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 forward, Jeanne continued to take in the ...

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