Character-driven fiction isn’t my go-to type of book, as I do prefer some plot in my stories. I was sent Alice McDermott’s latest novel by Macmillan Audio, and due to the shorter length and lack of other audio material, I gave it a shot. I found a book that is quiet yet powerful, lyrical and moving; fully deserving of the awards it has received to date.
We first meet Marie sitting on her front steps waiting for her father to return from work. After a brief conversation with her neighbor Pegeen, Pegeen dies in a tumble down her basement stairs. This small but important incident sets the stage for the rest of Marie’s life, with death always in the shadows.
The story jumps around a bit as Marie deals with the typical events of life — her father’s death, first love, her first job in a funeral home, marriage, children. Marie seems to almost be an observer in her own life, letting others make decisions for her and life happen around her. Her poor eyesight is also present throughout, mostly as an excuse for her refusal to see what’s going on around her. Marie’s brother, Gabe, is called to the priesthood, but leaves after a short time. His reason for leaving is never stated, and Marie is either willfully ignorant of his obvious conflict, or does a good job of pretending.
Someone is beautifully written, poignant, thought-provoking and at times amusing, as Marie takes up Pegeen’s phrase “amadan,” the Irish word for fool, and her parents refer to her as their little pagan. Her early 20th century Brooklyn neighborhood is vibrant and alive; you can almost hear the crack of the stickball bat and smell the funeral home where she works. The time Marie spends with some elderly neighborhood women as they discuss the lives of those who are laid out in the funeral home is enlightening for her as she learns both neighborhood gossip and life lessons.
This is an exceptional novel, and the accolades it has received are well deserved. I’m glad I put aside my preconceived notions about character-driven literary fiction and gave it a chance.
Notes on the audiobook: Kate Reading is the perfect choice to read Someone, her portrayal of Marie and those around her is spot on. The CD case says there’s an interview with the author and her editor, but my copy doesn’t seem to have this interview, which is disappointing, as that’s a feature I always enjoy.