It is not every book one reads that leaves you almost speechless, but “Someone,” by Alice McDermott did just that to me. This is a novel I did not want to end; by the time I got to the last twenty pages or so I would read a few, then put it down, then a few more. It took all day to finish those last pages.
The setting for “Someone” is Brooklyn, New York. Similar to Paul Auster’s “The Brooklyn Follies,” Brooklyn becomes a world unto itself. It is Marie Commeford’s world, made up of her family, her neighbors, its men, women, and children. It is an intimate story of love, young and old, and in only 232 pages, McDermott takes us into Marie’s life spanning the years from the end of the Depression into the twenty-first century. The magic of this book is in the telling, linking the sometimes random events of Marie’s youth into her larger story as she grows into maturity. Like real life, it is not always a linear path.
Marie is Irish, Catholic and very much a woman of her time with its constraints and expectations. She also manages an increasing sight loss requiring acceptance and imagination; her eyesight is both metaphor and guide map. Her brother Tom, as devoted as he is scholarly, becomes a priest but then leaves the priesthood. The reader does not find out why for many years and that truth arises from the death of their father. Death, a subject of both grief and wisdom, is often at the heart of McDermott’s tale, experienced as a daughter, friend, parent, neighbor, spouse, and lover. In McDermott’s skilled hands, “Someone” is a novel of life affirmation in the midst of death.
The characters in this novel move in and out of each other’s lives and we are reminded how that is true for all of us. Our memories, fears and hopes move like the planets, circling, in view and out, interweaving the present with events decades past. McDermott clearly understands how this works and lets Marie move through her youth, with all her timidity and trust, to wonder at the real life consequences moving in its wake. Marie’s life is a centered existence, anchored by and orbiting around her willingness to trust herself and those in her life, an enduring husband, three children, a loving brother. And always those memories: a lost first love, a most unlikely job that both sustained and enlightened, and those neighbors and friends of her youth who remain as powerful guides.
Readers who prefer a novel to come to resolution, may be disappointed in “Someone.” McDermott is an author writing for that reader willing to let go of preconceptions, willing to take on a story that on its face appears most ordinary, but in its reading becomes extraordinary. With hardly any awareness, Marie’s story becomes our own and in so doing, gives it a strength and vigor that is also sustaining and enlightening. – Sunny Solomon
Also available by Alice McDermott: Charming Billy; Child of My Heart; After This; At Weddings and Wakes; That Night; A Bigamist’s Daughter.