Clement & Loving

After This

Alice McDermott

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $24, 279 pp.

There is a scene early in After This, Alice McDermott’s latest novel, set in the parking lot of a public beach on Long Island. The time is Sunday morning, in mid-September, in the late 1950s or early 1960s. John and Mary Keane, the Irish-American parents of three young children, have decided to take a short car trip to the nearby shore. A hurricane is moving up the coast, and though still far to the south, its approach has stirred in John a wartime “memory or dream of the Ardennes” and an urge to see what the roiling Cape Verde tempest is agitating in “the waters off Jones Beach.”

Pregnant with their fourth child, Mary uncharacteristically if gladly accepts his suggestion to “skip Mass just this once and head to the beach.” She looks forward to being together as a family, a day without obligations, holy or otherwise, as well as a final moment before the arrival of another child upends whatever equilibrium the family has achieved (or fallen into) and propels them to seek a new balance.

The reality of a day at the beach proves less agreeable than the idea. Though they have the beach to themselves, the reason isn’t merely because it’s post-Labor Day. The surf is thunderous and dangerous. The wind forces them to huddle in the dunes. Mary frets to her husband that the children are playing too near the water-“some vestigial habit of her race or of her sex, this frowning vigil at the edge of the sea-until he...

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About the Author

Peter Quinn, a frequent contributor, is the author Dry Bones and Banished Children of Eve (both from Overlook Press), among other books.