Someone by Alice McDermott is a marvel of grace, insight, and beauty. There is no high-blown melodrama, there are no evil-doers or outlandish characters, and no improbable or extraordinary events. What is extraordinary is the way McDermott pulls us into the life of Marie; we are treated to a patchwork of recollections that veer back and forth through time and create an incredible and complete portrait of a life. But not only one life: the novel demonstrates how every one of us is connected, through experience and influence, to the lives around us.
Marie’s memories of her childhood in the old neighborhood (Brooklyn), the death of her father, her years as funeral parlor hostess, and as wife and mother; the changing relationship she has with her brother, the unexpectedness of marriage, the near-death experience of childbirth, all weave together, forming a picture not only of one woman but also the web of community and family around her. Marie is not seeking understanding or cohesion in recalling the moments of her life, but we, the readers, are graced with the realization: there are no ordinary lives. Each and every character in the novel is unique, and each life has an enduring impact on Marie. As her own life will have enduring impact on ours, as the grateful readers.
Having just laid to rest a beloved father-in-law, I know just how special one life can be. Where there is kindness, love, and willingness – a willingness to seek, accept, and celebrate – there is greatness. In her exquisite novel Someone, McDermott celebrates the complexity of human experience, and its possibilities for greatness, big and small.