Alice McDermott, Someone: A Novel (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2013), 232pp.
Alice McDermott's first novel in seven years won the National Book Award for fiction in 2013, as did her 1998 novel Charming Billy. Three other novels by her were also Pulitzer finalists. The bland and anonymous title of the novel points to its universal subject matter — the everyday life of an ordinary person, one Marie Commeford, who narrates her life story from a young school girl until her experiences as an "old woman living alone" in a care facility.
The story is set in Brooklyn, where McDermott was born in 1953, and immersed in her family's Irish American Catholicism. Marie's friend Pegeen lives next door with her Syrian family. Gerty Hanson was "the best of best friends" across many decades. Her brother Gabe was a priest for a year, but then quit and had a nervous breakdown. Dora Ryan married a person who turned out to be a woman dressed like a man. There's death all around. Friends move away. People get sick and have accidents. The neighborhood declines and the apartments deteriorate. Yes, there's a first love as a teenager, then the long love of marriage to Tom.
What's going on here is the quotidian life of someone, anyone, told in rich detail. Marie is an "unremarkable woman with an unforgettable life." Call it the sacred ordinary. When Marie's father died she had glimpsed "that the ordinary days were a veil, a swath of thin clothe that distorted the eye" and obscured the power of sorrow and grief. The morning after her honeymoon she awakens to familiar urban sounds: "a disappointing sense of an ordinary day, even here in the lovely hotel, an ordinary day simply going on." But that's all anyone has, McDermott seems to say, and life can be very good indeed with its mysterious mixture of joys and sorrows.