What does life come down to if not just a series of memories that amount together to something deep and meaningful? This is the main point to Alice McDermott’s latest novel Someone. Through the memories, narrated in the first person, of Marie a woman’s life and journeys through the highs and lows of life in America in the twentieth-century are recounted with nearly poetic brilliance. The book is quiet and at its conclusion the reader is not left with much plot wise, but as far as emotions go the book is rife with them.
Marie is the daughter of Irish immigrants, and lives in Brooklyn. The book opens during the years of the Great Depression and we encounter Marie as she sits on the front stairs of the brownstone her family lives in as she waits for her father to appear after getting home from work. This is the first real relationship we see in the book, and it is full of them, and perhaps one of the most meaningful ones. Marie loves her father, can identify the smells that make up his day when she runs to hug and greet him, she shares secrets with him and is devastated by his disease. Making up the rest of the family unit are Marie’s mother and brother, more pious and severe than the little girl and her father and a source of confrontation and difference for the young girl. Marie’s brother is destined to become a man of the cloth, and his quiet acceptance of his life’s direction will only make more quietly moving the twists and turns his life will take.
Marie filters her life through a pair of extremely thick glasses without which she would be incapable of seeing, but with them on life is somewhat distorted giving her a perspective that is hers alone. Whether she is rancorously judging her brother, working for the neighborhood funeral director, or going on her first dates and meeting the man she will marry, Marie’s thoughts and observations are completely her own, beautiful, melancholic, and powerful. Nothing really matters and, at once, everything does – just like in our own lives. Alice McDermott delivers a beautiful novel that is easy to read but that will leave a lasting impression. It did on me, at least.