Alice McDermott Is Not Interested in Irish-Americans

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Alice McDermott
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“Friends and strangers come up to me on the street,” Alice McDermott tells Kurt Andersen, “and say, ‘Oh, you’re writing another novel. Is this another one about Irish-Americans where somebody dies?’” In returning again and again to that material, McDermott delves ever more deeply into the extraordinary complexity of the everyday, offering, with each novel, a fully realized portrait of a distinct human life. It’s also the material of her own life. McDermott herself grew up in an Irish neighborhood in Brooklyn; her parents’ advice was that she should go to secretarial school and “write your little books” at night.

McDermott’s seventh novel is Someone. Marie is the someone, the “I” of the novel, and also “the eyes of the novel”: she suffers from myopia, and that becomes a metaphor for her view of the world. We first meet her as a young girl, watching night fall from her perch on a Brooklyn stoop, and the novel weaves in and out of Marie’s life through marriage, her brother’s priesthood and loss of faith, the Second World War, and the changing world of their Brooklyn neighborhood.

The question for Marie is a spiritual one. Early on in the book, she questions her brother’s pious assumption that we are all counted, calling him a fool. It’s those fundamental questions that matter for McDermott. “I’m not terribly interested, actually, in Irish-Americans in New York or anywhere else. I’m interested in what it is to be human, to make it through a life ... The rest is just details.”


Alice McDermott's 3 for 360

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