Likely Stories: Someone by Alice McDermott

Dec 26, 2019

I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and biographies.

Alice McDermont was born in Brooklyn, New York and has written several novels of life among those originally living in Ireland but who immigrated to the United States, particularly to Brooklyn.  She has won numerous awards and been listed as a finalist for several novels.    Someone: A Novel was longlisted for the 2013 National Book Award.  As the dust jacket reveals, Someone recounts the ‘devastating pains and unexpected joys with bursts of brilliant clarity and moments of profound confusion’.”  Marie is a child with thick glasses.  Unlike some stories, no one teases her or bullies her.  She has a brother who seems destined for a vocation as a Catholic priest.  Her father is ill, and her mother is a quiet, loving, but stern parent.  Her stories also reveal many details of life in pre-World W II.  I found this pleasant story full of wonderful depictions of people who share numerous insights into everyday life. 

Alice writes, “My mother called me into the kitchen” (52). // ‘It is time,’ my mother said, ‘that you learned a few things.’” // ‘On the narrow, corrugated tin of the drain board beside the sink, there was the flour bin and a bottle of buttermilk, the pale box of baking soda, a box of raisins, a box of salt, and a tin of caraway seeds.  On the small table beneath the window, a bowl and a spoon and the measuring cup.  There was as well a narrow card on which she had written in her careful hand the recipe for soda bread” (53). // It was time, my mother said, that I learned a few things about cooking. // I stood in the kitchen doorway, all reluctance.  Why? I wanted to ask” (54).  Marie continued to ask “Why?”  Finally, she brought the ingredients to the table. […] “My mother took me by the shoulders and turned me around.  ‘Are you sleepwalking?’ she said.  ‘There’s the baking soda.  You’ll have nothing at all if you don’t have that’ (55).  Marie continued to resist, “‘Glory be to God,’ my mother said.  ‘Now you read the recipe, Marie’” (55).  These stories reminded me of the great Irish writer, James Joyce.  His short stories also have a lot of the same character types. 

McDermott recalls Marie’s mother, “In her own last days, my mother asked, on waking, ‘Am I home?’  Because she did not want to be in Ireland, but in her last days every good bit of sleep she managed to get seemed to return her to that dreaded shore.  ‘Am I home?’ she would ask, tears standing in her rheumy eyes” // In the first days of her last illness we said, ‘Yes,” Gabe and I and Gabe’s friend Agnes, who was helping out, […] but when we saw how this distressed her, how she plucked at the sheets and turned her head away, we began to understand and we amended our reply.  ‘No,’ we said to reassure her.  ‘Not home.  Here.  In Brooklyn // Once, she said, ‘Show me.’ (49).  I recall my Dad’s last days, when he insisted, he was not in the home they had lived in for over 35 years, and that his father was coming to bring him home.  These powerful memories are spread throughout the novel.

This pleasing, sometimes funny, sometimes sad story is one any reader can thoroughly enjoy.  Alice McDermott’s Someone: A Novel will warm the cockles of your heart.

Likely Stories is a production of KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and happy reading!