Book Reviews


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish. Alice McDermott is a writer known for her depictions of regular people - families and communities, neighbors and friends. And her newest novel is called "Someone." Here is Susan Gilman with our review.

SUSAN JANE GILMAN, BYLINE: I'll be honest. I often judge books by their titles and "Someone" isn't promising. It's generic, vague, flat. And in the hands of a less talented author, this beautifully intimate novel would have been all of these things. Nothing spectacular happens in Alice McDermott's latest work. Her protagonist, Marie, is largely unremarkable. She yearns for love and autonomy and respect, but who doesn't? And the larger theme here, Irish-American life in 20th century New York, is hardly groundbreaking.

But this book shimmers. There is nothing stale or predictable about it. We first meet Marie as a small girl sitting on her stoop in a working-class neighborhood, waiting for her father to come home on the subway. On the street around her are her neighbors, each described by Marie in her gentle, lyrical voice.

A clumsy half-Syrian girl with crooked teeth who falls down the stairs to her death. Big Lucy, a bullish girl on a scooter, who will wind up institutionalized. Everyone, it seems, is damaged, but getting on, somehow. There's no real engine driving the novel's plot. And Marie doesn't undergo any dramatic transformation, which is usually essential for the main character in any novel.

Yet, snuggling into bed to read "Someone" at the end of each day, I found myself eager to pick up where I had left off. Reading "Someone" is like having a loquacious neighbor telling stories over coffee and cake at your kitchen table after dinner. You're skeptical at first. Does she really have anything interesting to say?

But soon, you're enchanted by her anecdotes and observations. Oddly moved, you settle into your chair and linger over your cake, wanting to prolong her visit, for her to tell you more.

CORNISH: The book is "Someone," by Alice McDermott. Our reviewer is Susan Jane Gilman. Her new novel, "The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street," will be published next year.

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