by Alice McDermott

Farrar, Straus, and Girous, 2013. ISBN 978-0-374-28109-0.
Reviewed by B. Lynn Goodwin
Posted on 12/17/2013

Fiction: Mainstream

"Who will ever love me?" Twenty-something Marie asks her younger brother Gabe, who is studying for the priesthood. She's just broken up with a man who's marrying a prettier woman in Alice McDermott's new novel, Someone. The man who's marrying a prettier woman tells Marie he owes it to his unborn children to give them every advantage. "Better-looking children have more opportunities," he says.

Gabe gives his sister a one word answer, "Someone." He believes everyone can find someone to love, an interesting concept which finally proved true for me. Both Marie and I came to marriage with a history of unrealized romance, as well as a slice of cynicism and pragmatism. Both of us held out hope for something bigger, better, and fuller as we led our own lives and wondered if there was a someone for us. (I found mine when I was 62. It was worth the wait.)

Alice McDermott's novel examines the joys and pains of an ordinary woman from a complex Catholic family Brooklyn, New York. McDermott sifts through the daily detritus to find the likeable, exceptional, vulnerable, and beautiful aspects of life that we overlook as we tread through our ordinary daily journeys. Though her title is simple, her story is not.

We first meet Marie as a bespectacled eight-year-old, sitting on the stoop, watching the neighborhood and waiting for her daddy to come home. We travel with her though her first romance with Walter, her first job at a funeral parlor, her father's death, her marriage, her eye operations, Gabe's breakdown and more.

McDermott creates Marie's world in rich, sensory detail. She shows us the shadings that layer themselves into Marie's emotional life and leaves room for us to identify with the feelings and emotions that apply to us. She leaves us feeling that no life is completely ordinary. She shows us new reasons to value our own lives.

Like so many women, Marie feels unloved and undervalued. McDermott's perceptive, insightful novel shows us that she is wrong. Though Marie, Gabe, and their family may make some foolish choices, they are not fools. The author digs deeply into character, motivation, and place to come up with this rich, perceptive story. No scene is wasted and she's captured exactly the right tone for the piece.

Someone is artful literary fiction at its best. I'd give it six stars if I could. It's that good. Too bad I'll have to settle for five.

McDermott received her B.A. in 1975 from the State University of New York at Oswego, and her M.A. in 1978 from the University of New Hampshire. She has taught at the University of California at San Diego and American University, has been a writer-in-residence at Lynchburg and Hollins Colleges in Virginia, and was lecturer in English at the University of New Hampshire. Her short stories have appeared in Ms., Redbook, Mademoiselle, and Seventeen. The recipient of a Whiting Writers Award, McDermott is a writer-in-residence at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. She lives in Bethesda, Maryland, with her husband, a neuroscientist, and three children. Visit her website.

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