Alice McDermott's new novel, Someone, focuses on an Irish Catholic family living in Brooklyn.
Gabe and Marie are siblings born several years apart. Gabe is being groomed for the priesthood and Marie is doing her best to avoid becoming her mother. Told through the recollections of Marie, we learn of the trials, heartbreaks and deaths of those living in this tight-knit neighborhood.
Marie, who has suffered from various eye afflictions throughout her life, nevertheless sees the world with remarkable clarity. As she recalls memories of the neighborhood, stories of the ordinary become extraordinary. A Syrian-Irish neighbor jokes about tripping and falling into the arms of young men on the subway as a means of introduction, only to trip on some stairs and fall to her death later that day. A man blinded by war is dressed by his mother in pressed clothing and polished shoes, before being guided to a chair on the sidewalk where daily he serves as an umpire, making the close calls when asked during stickball games, his blind judgment never questioned by the young boys. And once Gabe realizes his lifelong quest for the priesthood, his experience is short-lived after he is forced to give his own father last rites just a year after ordination, leading to a loss of faith and eventual breakdown.
It's easy to understand why McDermott has been a National Book Award winner and Pulitzer finalist for several of her books. Her subtle push to the reader to rely on other senses is brilliant, as her protagonist must do the same. McDermott has a way of transporting a reader not only to see the sights of the city, but also to absorb its heat, smell its food and feel its loss.