Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $25, 232 pp.
Alice McDermott doesn’t do trendy. Verbal pyrotechnics aren’t part of her arsenal; making pronouncements on the way we live now isn’t her aim. There’s no head-spinning riffing on the classics, modern or otherwise, no stoking of dystopian anxieties. There may be eating, praying, and loving, but only to suggest the redemptive qualities of the quotidian, not as a prescription for happiness.
What McDermott does is immediacy. In clear, purposeful prose she examines the near at hand—marriage, family, parish, neighborhood—bringing readers in close to share in her discoveries. She draws both from what seems the deeply personal as well as from the collective, mainly postwar Irish-American-Catholic experience to document what changes and—perhaps as telling—what doesn’t over the course of the generations. As John Keane in McDermott’s novel After This thinks to himself when looking out over the ocean: “As it was before me, and as it will be long after I’m gone.”
That book made skillful use of a roving third-person point of view to light on multiple characters, sometimes within a single sentence, making readers almost uncomfortably a part of the Keane family circle. In Someone, her newest novel, McDermott uses a different approach to achieve a similar effect, presenting the first-...