|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.19(w) x 8.21(h) x 0.58(d)|
|Age Range:||14 - 18 Years|
About the Author
Date of Birth:June 27, 1953
Place of Birth:Brooklyn, New York
Education:B.A., State University of New York-Oswego, 1975; M.A., University of New Hampshire, 1978
Read an Excerpt
By Alice McDermott
Farrar, Straus and GirouxCopyright © 2006 Alice McDermott
All right reserved.
Chapter OneLeaving the church, she felt the wind rise, felt the pinprick of pebble and grit against her stockings and her cheeks-the slivered shards of mad sunlight in her eyes. She paused, still on the granite steps, touched the brim of her hat and the flying hem of her skirt-felt the wind rush up her cuffs and rattle her sleeves.
And all before her, the lunch-hour crowd bent under the April sun and into the bitter April wind, jackets flapping and eyes squinting, or else skirts pressed to the backs of legs and jacket hems pressed to bottoms. And trailing them, outrunning them, skittering along the gutter and the sidewalk and the low gray steps of the church, banging into ankles and knees and one another, scraps of paper, newspapers, candy wrappers, what else?-office memos? shopping lists? The paper detritus that she had somewhere read, or had heard it said, trails armies, or was it (she had seen a photograph) the scraps of letters and wrappers and snapshots that blow across battlefields after all but the dead have fled?
She squinted against the sunlight on taxi hoods and bus windows, heard the rushing now of air and of taxis, wheezing buses, and underneath it all something banging-a loosened street sign, a trapped can, a distant hammer-rhythmic andmethodical. The march of time.
And then George approaching, his hand stuck to his hat and the hat bent into the onslaught. She went down the steps just in front of him, drawn more by forward momentum than by any desire to meet up with, or to avoid, her brother's latest best pal.
The cold wind made it difficult to breathe, as if it could snatch your next breath before you had time to swallow it, and she bent her head, too, hand to her hat, submerged in wind and beginning to imagine herself slowly losing ground with each step forward, slowly beginning to stall, and then to sail backward-a quick scramble to regain ground and then another sailing backward. In church she had prayed for contentment. She was thirty, with no husband in sight. A good job, an aging father, a bachelor brother, a few nice friends. At least, she had asked-so humbly, so earnestly, so seriously-let me be content.
And now a slapstick windstorm fit for Harold Lloyd or Buster Keaton.
It was either God's reply or just April again, in the wind tunnel that was midtown Manhattan. The scent of it, the Easter scent of April in the city, all around her, in the cold air itself as well as on the shoulders of the crowd; the smell of sunlight and dirt, something warming at the heart of it all.
And then she felt his hand on her shoulder and he shouted, "Mary Rose," which bound him forever to her brother and her father and her life at home since nowhere else did she tolerate the double name. His head was still lowered, his hand still on his hat-he might have been waiting for the right opportunity to doff it-and he peered around at her from under its brim as if from under the rock of another life.
And she, her hand on the back of her own hat, did the same.
"Hello, George," she said. She could feel the crunch of city grit between her back teeth.
"Some wind," he said. He had one eye closed against it, the other was watery.
"You're telling me," she said.
They walked together to the corner and as they stepped off the curb, he suddenly reached up and took her raised elbow-the one that led to the hand she held against her hat-and kept it between his fingers as they crossed. She thought he must look like a man attached to a subway strap. At the next corner, he did the same; a gesture that was either brotherly or proprietary, but awkward either way, as if one of them were blind or doddering, or as if both were involved in some odd, raised-elbow folk dance. At Forty-sixth, the light was against them and the wind paused enough for her to take her hand off her hat while they waited with the crowd.
She turned to him-was he going to speak? His eyes were teary from the wind, red-rimmed and bloodshot. His nose was running and there were tears on his windblown cheeks. She clicked open the purse that hung on her arm and found her handkerchief, but he refused it, reaching into his overcoat for his own. He mopped his face and blew his nose before the crowd got them moving again and as they got to the curb, she placed her left hand on her hat so he could reach her elbow at a more convenient angle-which he did, guiding her across the street as if she were a novice pedestrian, and this time, perhaps, putting a little more pressure behind the fingertips that held her.
"Where are you headed, George?" she asked him. He shouted something unintelligible into the wind.
"Have you eaten yet?" she asked, because it was only polite. And then the wind paused completely, as it will in April, a sudden silence and maybe even the hint of warmth from the sun, so that he replied with odd gentleness, "Yeah, I had my lunch."
They were at the door of the restaurant. The wind was picking up again. "Would you like some coffee?" she asked.
He shook his head and she could not deny her own relief. "I'm out of time," he said. And then added, "What about dinner?"
"Lamb chops," she told him. "You coming over?" Anticipating already a stop at the butcher's to pick up two or three more.
He shook his head. There was another tear streaming down his windblown cheek and as he replied she lifted the handkerchief in her hand and wiped it away, feeling the not unpleasant pull of his beard against the thin cotton.
He said, "I mean, what about us having dinner?"
The wind puffed up again and they both put their hands to their hats. "Where?" she said, rudely, she realized later. But it was like having a passing stranger suddenly turn to sing you an aria. Anyone would have a second or two of not quite knowing what was really going on.
"Out," he told her. He was a broad-faced man who looked good in hats. Who looked better now than he did at home, where he had been thus far only the unremarkable source of her brother Jimmy's unpredictable enthusiasms. "At a restaurant," he said. And then to make himself clearer, "The two of us."
"Tonight?" she said, and then they both turned away for a moment from the peppered wind. When they turned back, he said, "Why not?" but without conviction, confirming for them both that this was a sudden impulse that most likely would not last out the afternoon. "What if I come by at seven?" he said.
She paused, squinting, not for the chance to see him better but for him to see her. "I'll have to cook those lamb chops anyway," she said. "Or else Jimmy and my father will be gnawing the table legs by the time I get home."
He smiled a little, unable to disguise what she was sure was a bit of confusion about his own impulse. He said again, "I'll come by at seven," and then turned back into the wind.
She pushed open the door to the restaurant. More lunchtime bustle, mostly women in hats with their coats thrown over the backs of chairs, the satiny linings and the fur collars and cuffs, the perfume and the elegant curves of the women's backs as they leaned forward across the small tables, all giving the hint of a boudoir to the busy place. She found a seat at the counter, wiggled her way into it. Saw the man beside her who was finishing a cigarette give her a quick up and down from over his shoulder and then turn back to flick an ash onto the remains of his sandwich. She imagined returning his dismissive stare, and then maybe even letting her eyes linger distastefully on the crust of bread and the bitten dill pickle and the cigarette debris on his plate. She could slide the ashtray that was right there between them a little closer to his elbow-hint, hint. Emboldened, perhaps-was she?-by the fact that she'd just been asked out on a date.
She ordered a sandwich from the waitress, whose pretty youth was still evident in the doughy folds of her weary and aging face, and a cup of tea. And then she held her hands over the steaming water for a few seconds. Thin hands, long fingers, with a kind of transparency to the chapped skin. Her mother's gold ring, inset with a silver Miraculous Medal, on her right hand. The man beside her rubbed his cigarette into the plate, then stood, swinging away from her on the stool and causing a slight ripple through the customers all along the other side of him. He took his overcoat from the hat rack and put it on standing just behind her, and then leaned across his empty stool, brushing her arm, to leave a few coins under his plate.
"Overcoats in April," he said. "Some crazy weather."
She turned to him, out of politeness, the habit of it. "I've never seen such wind," she said.
He was handsome enough-dark eyes and a nice chin, though his hair was thinning. He wore a dark overcoat and a dark suit, a white shirt and a tie, and there was the worn shine of a brass belt buckle as he reached for his wallet. "Reminds me of some days we had overseas," he said, taking a bill from his billfold.
She frowned, reflexively. "Where were you?"
He shook his head, smiled at her. Something in his manner seemed to indicate that they knew each other, that they'd had such conversations before. "In another life," he said and snapped the bill and slapped the wallet and returned it to his pocket with a wink that said, But all that's behind us now, isn't it? He was thin and his stomach was taut and his starched white shirt was smooth against his chest and belly. The brass belt buckle, marked with decorative lines, a circled initial at its center, was worn to a warm gold. "Once more into the breach," he said, turning up his collar. "Wish me luck."
For an odd second, she thought he might lean down and kiss her cheek.
"Good luck," she said. Over her shoulder, she watched him walk away. A slight limp, a favoring, perhaps, of his left leg. A flaw that would, she knew, diminish him in some women's eyes. Even if he'd been wounded in the war, there would be, she knew, for some women, the diminished appeal of a man who had suffered something over which he'd had no control. Who had suffered disappointment.
She turned back to her sandwich. And here, of all things, was desire again. (She could have put the palm of her hand to the front of his white shirt.) Here was her chicken sandwich and her tea and the waitress with a hard life in her eyes and a pretty face disappearing into pale flesh asking if there's anything else for now, dear. Here was the boudoir air of respectable Schrafft's with its marble counters and pretty lamps and lunchtime bustle (ten minutes until she should be back at her desk), perfume and smoke, with the war over and another life begun and mad April whipping through the streets again. And here she was at thirty, just out of church (a candle lit every lunch hour, still, although the war was over), and yearning now with every inch of herself to put her hand to the worn buckle at a stranger's waist, a palm to his smooth belly. A man she'd never see again. Good luck.
She sipped her tea. Once, ten years ago, at a Sunday-afternoon party in some apartment that she remembered now as being labyrinthine, although it probably had only four bedrooms, as opposed to the place she shared with her brother and her father that had two, Mike Shea had seized her by the wrist and pulled her into a dim room and plastered his mouth against hers before she could catch her breath. She had known him since high school, he was part of the crowd she went with then, and he had kissed her once or twice before-she remembered specifically the train station at Fishkill, on a snowy night when they were all coming back from a sledding party-but this was passionate and desperate, he was very drunk, and rough enough to make her push him off if he had not, in the first moment she had come up for air, gently taken off his glasses and placed them on a doilied dresser beside them, and then, in what seemed the same movement, reached behind her to lock the door. It was the odd, drunken gentleness of it, not to mention the snapping hint of danger from the lock, that changed her mind. And after two or three rebukes when he tried to get at the buttons that ran up the back of her dress, she thought, Why not, and although her acquiescence seemed to slow him down a bit, as if he was uncertain of the next step, she was enjoying herself enough by then to undo the last button without prompting and then to pull her bare shoulder and arm up out of the dress-first one then the other-and to pull dress and slip (she didn't wear a bra, no need) down to her waist in a single gesture. And then-was it just the pleasure of the material against her bare flesh, his shirt front, her wool?-she slowly pushed dress and slip and garter belt and stockings down over her narrow hips until they fell to her feet. And then she stepped out of her shoes. ("Even the shoes?" the priest had whispered in the confessional the following Saturday, as if it was more than he could bear, or imagine-as if, she thought later, he was ready to send her to perdition or ask her for a date.)
The banging at the door was his excuse to turn away-some people had their coats in there-and while he stood with his back to her she dressed again and unlocked the door and walked out. She smiled at the taunts and jeers of her friends and when someone asked, "Where's Mike?" she said, "I think I killed him," which got a great laugh.
Mike Shea became a medic during the war and was now married, working for Pfizer. To this day he can't look at her straight. To this day she can't quite convince herself that the sin was as grave as it seemed. (She thought, in fact, of telling the priest as he whispered his furious admonitions that she weighed barely a hundred pounds and was as thin as a boy and if he would adjust his imagination accordingly and see the buds of her breasts and her flat stomach and the bony points of her hips, he would understand that even buck naked, her body was not made for mortal sin.)
She can't quite convince herself, these ten years later, that anything at all like it will happen to her again.
She finished her sandwich, gave an extra quarter to the waitress, who also wore no wedding band, and headed back into the breach.
Chapter TwoIn the lobby of her building, people fresh out of the wind were huffing and puffing like swimmers just crawled up on shore. She rode the elevator with a group of them and then ducked into the ladies' room before she headed for her desk, ten minutes over her hour.
Pauline was there already, at the desk just across the aisle, facing her typewriter but with her hands in her lap and her shoulders slumped under the good wool of her handmade dress, her big, freshly powdered face watchful and, no doubt, full of news. "Nice lunch?" Pauline asked, batting her eyes at the clock and flicking her tongue over her teeth, as if to indicate she had finished her own some time ago.
"Nice," Mary said and bowed her head. She felt some guilt: she had not, this lunch hour, invited Pauline along.
She uncovered her own typewriter, feeling Pauline's eyes on her. Although their desks both faced the front of the room, their typewriters were off to the side so that Pauline's eyes on her-on her back when she turned to type, on her profile when she turned to her desk-had become by now a condition of her employment.
"I didn't see you leave," Pauline said. "I just got a sandwich and brought it back here."
"Sorry," Mary said. "I had some errands to run."
Pauline eyed her. It would be Pauline's way to say, No you didn't. It would be Pauline's way to refuse the decorum of the fib, to embrace the painful honesty. It would be her way to say, You just didn't feel like having lunch with me. Which would have been true, of course. And no less embarrassing, regrettable, awkward, no less vigorously denied, because it was true.
But Pauline had another conversation to pursue. She lifted her hands and put them over the top of her typewriter, she scooted her chair as close as it could get, a familiar routine, so that her breasts were pressed against the keys. She mouthed something, a name-Mr. Someone-or-Other-and rolled her eyes and cocked her head toward the front of the room. "Adele," she mouthed. Mary looked up, she couldn't help it, toward the desk where Adele sat, her back to them, her dirty blond hair draped perfectly over her lovely shoulders. "Rita," another girl from the office, "saw them both," Pauline whispered. "At lunch." She paused, her eyes joyous, her lips pursed, her cheeks drawn in, as if the piece of news were butterscotch in her mouth. "Adele was crying," she added, only mouthing the words, or only speaking them with a breathless wheeze in place of where the words might have been. "Crying." She pantomimed, dragging her own manicured finger down her cheek.
Excerpted from After This by Alice McDermott Copyright © 2006 by Alice McDermott. Excerpted by permission.
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Reading Group Guide
Winner of the National Book Award, Alice McDermott has captivated countless readers with her tender portrayals of family life in America, from Irish-Catholic suburbia to the beaches of Long Island and Manhattan’s historic streets. After This, her sixth novel, takes us to the cultural transitions of the mid-twentieth century—the span between World War II and Nixon, when a sexual revolution, Vatican II, draft registration for the controversial Vietnam conflict, and other headlines spelled upheaval for families across the nation.
Bringing those cultural shifts vividly to life, McDermott introduces us to Mary and John Keane, a middle-class couple raising four children as the country arrives at historic crossroads. Michael and Annie test the boundaries of their changing world, while the eldest and most cautious sibling, Jacob, is sent to war. Young Clare proves to possess a worldliness that belies her innocent sensitivity. Together, the Keanes navigate the clashes of a traditional life and modern freedom. Portrayed by McDermott through a serious of seamless, beautifully wrought vignettes, their story opens our hearts to new understandings of fate and everyday mercy.
The questions and discussion topics that follow are designed to enhance your reading of Alice McDermott’s After This. We hope they will enrich your experience as your book club explores this moving novel.
1. Alice McDermott’s writing style has been widely praised for its evocative imagery and powerful use of understatement. How were you affected by the quiet lines that told you of John’s future death (pages 130-131) or of Jacob’s fate in Vietnam (page 199)? What everyday images best capture the most emotional events of your life?
2. The initial scenes in After This tell us that Mary dated her brother’s friend George before she married John, and that she had given in to Mike Shea’s advances at a party. How did these facts shape your understanding of her as you read about her life? Before she was married, what did Mary seem to believe her destiny was?
3. Discuss the memory of the “baby grand.” How would you describe Mary and John’s life at that point, before the birth of their children? What was Mary discovering about her husband when they were newlyweds? How did the death of his brother shape John?
4. What was foreshadowed by the scene at Jones Beach, not only in terms of Vietnam, but in the temperaments of the children and the dynamics of the family as a whole?
5. What do Mary and John teach their children about the role of religion, from the time they are young (saying an “Angel of God” during the 1960 hurricane) to the novel’s closing scene? How does the children’s relationship to the church differ from their parents’ relationship to it? Did you adopt your parents’ views on religion?
6. Does the typical twenty-first-century American family resemble the Keanes? Has the very definition of family shifted? What would the future likely hold for Clare and Gregory?
7. Mary became an adult when images of the ideal woman were almost always domestic; she was even expected to cook dinner for her father and brother each night, regardless of her plans for the evening. Her daughters would have access to far more career options, as well as birth control and legal abortions. Was the generation gap of the 1960s more significant than for other generations of mothers and daughters? How did gender roles for men shift during this time period? Did John’s sons fulfill his expectations?
8. How does the novel’s setting affect the storyline? How was the turmoil depicted in After This playing out elsewhere in the country? What is distinctive about the locales so frequently featured in Alice McDermott’s fiction?
9. Discuss the other outcomes described in the novel, such as Mr. Persichetti’s addicted son, or Pauline’s spinsterhood (is she a difficult person because she never married, or did she never marry because she’s such a difficult person?). What determines which course a life will take?
10. Part III (page 79) begins with John’s thoughts: “Man is immortal, or he is not. And if he is, there’s the whole question of whom you pray to. If he’s not, then prayer is wishful thinking. You either pray to the dead or you don’t.” What is the greater quandary he wrestles with in this passage? Do you think he ever resolves it?
11. How did war and politics shape family life in the 1960s and early 1970s? Has the impact of one on the other changed in contemporary America?
12. As Annie bluffs her way through the Edith Wharton dialogue and embarks on a relationship with an English lover, how does she seem to view her past? How is she defining herself in those scenes? What enabled her to have an identity that seems so different from her mother’s?
13. The friendship between Pauline and Mary is often referred to as obligatory, a fulfillment of the commandment to “feed my lambs.” Is this friendship by contemporary standards? Is that sense of obligation waning, and if so, what are the consequences for communities in general? Does Mary seem to have any friendships like Annie and Susan’s?
14. How would you have responded to Sister Lucy’s story (page 214) if you had been one of her students?
15. What was your reaction to the novel’s closing conversation? What is the impact of the priest’s question about distinguishing God-given gifts from an accomplishment attained only through strenuous effort? How does that scene speak to the Keane family’s destiny?
16. What comes to mind when you consider the novel’s title? What aftermaths resonated the most with your own life story?
17. In what ways does After This complement and amplify the themes of McDermott’s previous fiction? What might the Keanes think of the other families she has created?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I was excited to read this book by Alice McDermott because I loved Charming Billy. What a disappointment it was. There was no plot -- it was very disjointed. I forced myself to finish it just because I hate not to finish a book I start, but it was a big effort.
I selected this novel because Jane Hamilton was quoted as saying that it was the best book she had read in a decade. I was disappointed. There was a consistent lack of story and character development. 'It' and 'they' were just 'there.' The one word that comes to mind with the total effect is distant. I felt a wide separation between the characters and me throughout. I did not miss them or want more of the story when it ended.
I agree with a previous reviewer who said this story seems distant. Characters are flat and undeveloped. Motives seem contrived. I was glad to be done with the book.
I found it very hard to sustain any interest in this book.. I thought the opening chapter was beautiful, but things went downhill after that. The characters were not well drawn and the plot (what there was of it) was laborious and depressing. I stuck with it only because I thought McDermott would somehow recapture the imagery and beauty exhibited in the first few pages. Instead, it was just a dreary compilation of unlikable, selfish characters and unrelated erratic story/plot lines. A huge waste of precious reading time.
While I definitely felt this was a book to remember and reflect on, and would recommend it, though not for a "rainy day" (literally or emotionally), I would have liked it to continue letting the reader know more of Mary Keane. I enjoyed being let in on the characters who peopled her world, but the story left me unsatisfied in terms of Mary's specific ongoing thoughts of how her life evolved since first praying for "contentment". I particularly thought McDermott had a gift for depicting the behavior of her characters, but also so much more. . . their most intimate psychological rationale for the choices in behavior they made. The fine tuned depiction of their human quirks, spontaneous actions, as well as conscious afterthoughts and subsequent behavior, made me aware of her ability to understand human nature and lent her writing much credibility. I definitely would consider reading other Alice McDermott books!
McDermott starts to bring up several interesting topics, but never explores them. Just when you think you are going to get to the heart of a situation she glosses over it and changes gears. I liked the characters and I thought I liked where she was going, but she never ended up going anywhere. Or maybe it is that she tried to go every where and got lost each time.
I regretted buying this book after reading the first few chapters. The characters are stiff and the chapters are disjointed. I kept reading hoping it would get better but it never did 'grab' me. By the middle of the book I forced myself to keep reading simply because I had spent money on this and was going to see it through to the end. This was the first book I had read by this author and I think it will probably be the last.
All in all, I really liked this book. The slow, languid pace somehow fits the story perfectly. My one complaint is that the story treats time almost like a stone skipping over water. At the end of one chapter, two people meet each other, and at the beginning of the next, they are married with three children and a fourth on the way. Then, suddenly, we are another 5 years or so in the future (references to WWII and the Vietnam War anchor the story generationally, but there's very little to give solid reference points as to how much time has passed from one point in the story to another). I understand that all the day-to-day details of family life are not the point of this book, but I did find it more satisfying when McDermott allowed us deeper into the lives of the Keane family rather than just skimming the surface.
A collection of vignettes about the Keane family of Long Island, living in the wake of the Vietnam War. In vignette-like chapters, McDermott probes the inner lives of this family. McDermott flawlessly encapsulates an era in the private moments of one family's life.
I was surprised not to like this book bec. I do like the writing of Alice McDermott. It just didn't hold my interest. After reading 1/2 the book, I can't even rem. the characters names.
'After This' follows the life of a middle-class couple, the Keanes, as they struggle to raise their children amidst the backdrop of Vietnam and sixties-era America. McDermott, a proponent of the 'Speak quietly but carry a big stick' school of writing, eloquently offers a tale of the Keanes' progression from marriage, to children, to marriage once again. McDermott writes in a spare, but lyrical and musical style, and understatement is the key - the most powerful moments in the novel are left to the reader's imagination, rather than stated explicitly. This results in a novel that's subtly affecting rather than overpowering. No tour-de-force, torrential maestrom, but rather, a gentle mist and very affecting in its own way. Definitely recommend.
I loved Child of My Heart by Alice McDermott so I had high hopes for this book. McDermott writes beautifully and it's because of this that I saw this book through to its end. The first half was so slow and dull that I nearly gave up on it. I kept thinking that it would get better with the next chapter. It did, but only marginally so. The story's pace picked up and the story became more interesting, but I felt as though it was unfolding from a great distance to which I could never quite get close enough. I'm not really sure what the point of the story is or why certain bits were revealed or why they came to light when they did. Not everything needs to add up in order for me to appreciate a book but they need to not leave me puzzling over all that just didn't make sense, as was the case with After This.
This a slightly strange book in that it doesn't seem to go anywhere, and at the end it's not totally clear (to me anyway) what it was all about. I suppose you can summarize it as being a story of a catholic family growing up in New York in the mid to late 20th century. There were very significant events happening, but McDermott seems to almost mention them in passing, rather than spending time drawing out their significance. The relationships among the four siblings are certainly examined, but not at the emotional depth I would have liked. Maybe it's just written on a higher level than I'm used to reading...I'm not good at picking up subtleties. The book reminds me a bit of Richard Russo's "Bridge of Sighs", but I found Russo's book to be much more satisfying to read.
This is the first book I have read by Alice McDermott. She is indeed a very fine writer and this story of an American family spanning two decades is brilliant. John and Mary Keane and their 4 children are a traditional working class Catholic family living on Long Island. Their children come of age in the 60's and the family faces a changing world, Vietnamn, the sexual revolution, and new ideas.The only fault I found with this book was that occasionally it moved too slowly with too much detailed description of events. Ms McDermott is a realist which I apreciate but the visit to the beach early in the book is an example where I felt that the movement of every grain of sand was being described. This was however a very small problem compared with the quality of the writing.
McDermott is a master at evokinig readers' understanding of the characters through a paucity of description of the truly meaningful events in this book. I found the same was true of Charming Billy. The chapters often begin with the event already accomplished that determines the responses and interactions of the characters that then lead to the next chapter. I really enjoy this prose. Ms. McDermott is well worth reading.
One of the All Iowa Reads nominees, this one follows a family (Mom & Dad & four kids--2 boys & 2 girls) from the time the parents start dating just after WWII until the youngest child gets pregnant & marries. It's really just a series of scenes in their life rather than a continuous story but does not really suffer on that account. It's a well-written book filled with insight about the life oa middle-class, urban, white, Catholic family (with due attention to the famjily's religious practices) that will likely appeal to baby boomer parents & kids but doesn't seem to me to be especially well suited as a book ALL Iowa should read.
The story of an Irish Catholic family in Long Island from after WWII through the Vietnam War. Each chapter skips from character to character depicting seemingly every day life episodes from that character's life. I enjoyed McDermott's writing style and the way she painted every day life scenes, but I felt a bit let down and wanting more when I finished the book.
About life's suffering and life's gifts, large and small. The kindness we show to each other saves us from the pain each life contains. In After This, we follow a family from the 50's-60's through all the sweeping cultural changes that period brought and through the evolution of a family as they grow up. A simple but profound story of giving, loving, compassion, and grace. I especially like McDermott because she is what I remember my Catholic faith to be all about and the life and culture that resonates with me.
Although the subject matter was promising, the book was disappointingly flat. It follows a family from the postwar marriage of the mother and father, their four children growing up in the 1950s and coming of age in the '60s, and a sort of "afterthought" character--a family friend who never marries. The author fails to develop the characters--occasionally, I forgot the name of the children. The upheavals of the 1960s, changes in religion, the Vietnam War, feminism--all affect this family, but so vaguely that the reader just doesn't care. Maybe that was the author's point--a family just like any other. McDermott is a good writer, so the story flows along like a placid stream--not bad enough to stop reading, but not good enough to get excited about.
An episodic novel following John and Mary Keane from their first meeting in post World War II New York through marriage, the births of their children, and the lives of those children as they mature into young adults. The novel has a somewhat disjointed feel to it, as the chapters jump from one character to another. However, the author has an exquisite writing style, and some of the chapters are gems, such as the chapter when son Jacob spends the afternoon with his youngest sister before leaving for the Army. In a later well-written chapter, which starts out being about other characters, the family learns of Jacob's death in Vietnam. However, some chapters, such as the one detailing daughter Annie's experiences in school in England, just don't come off. The characters in that chapter, such as Annie's friend Grace and their English literature professor, just don't seem very real. All in all, a fairly good novel, but some parts are definitely better than others.
A series of vignettes, snapshots of memories as a family grows together and apart during the social upheaval of the 60s. Polished and evocative.
didn't love Alice McDermott's After This. Her prose and style were excellent, and since this was my first book by McDermott, I am going to have to look into her other works before I come to a conclusion about her. As for this particular work, any book about family relationships is going to be prickly because that is the nature of family,but I struggled to find much about any character with which I could identify (despite having the whole Irish catholic family background), and at times I even found the parents somewhat repugnant in the ways they related to or perceived their own children. There was a sense of disconnect throughout the entire book that made it difficult to really feel like the family was anything more than a bunch of orbiting satellites around the central nebulous idea of "family." And perhaps, because of the time setting of the work (late 40's-70's) it is that feeling that McDermott set out to capture, in which case the book is brilliant, and I just am not a good match for that type of story (always a possibility). The story ends abruptly and without seeming to obtain any sense of closure. However, it is an easy read. I was able to finish in less than three days, and it's not completely UNenjoyable. It's just not one I will ever find myself saying "Oh you really MUST read this...."
A nice little story about a family of six on Long Island. The children grow up during the 60s. I listened to it on CD while commuting to work. It touches on Vietnam and abortion among other things.
Did not care for the ending. Too abrupt.