Book Report: After This by Alice McDermott

After ThisAfter This by Alice McDermott

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

NOTE: Possible spoiler alerts.

A very good story about the lives of Mary Keane, her husband John, and their kids Jacob, Michael, Annie, and Clare. As in her novel Someone, Annie McDermott follows lives through many years; here we start just after World War II and go into the 1970s. We watch Mary and John meet (just when Mary was afraid she would be a spinster) fall in love, have kids and grow old together.

McDermott does a wonderful job in laying out the hopes and fears that grip us all. When Mary is pregnant with Clare, their youngest, John takes inventory of his family “His love for his children bore down on his heart with the weight of three heavy stones. There were all his unnamed fears for them, and hopes for them. There was all he was powerless to change, including who they were – one too mild, one too easily tempted to be cruel, and the little girl (it was the weight of a heavy stone agains his heart) a mystery to him, impossible to say what she, through her life would need. And soon one more.” (p35)

In describing the pivotal events, McDermott does a masterful job of leading us to them and showing us just a glimpse – a little bit from the side and then stopping; walking on to the next event; leaving us to piece together details later on.

Some of the sections were difficult to follow and were dragged a bit. I would have given this book 3 stars instead of 4 except for a few riveting scenes – especially Annie’s friend Susan at the doctor’s office. Describing Annie she writes “She had studied her own young face, blotched with weeping, in the bathroom mirror. Terrible things were ahead of her: Jacob would go to Vietnam. Her father’s surgery had made him an old man. And how would she bear the empty world without her mother in it? There was college to look forward to, boyfriends, marriage, maybe children of her own, but terrible things, too, were attached to any future. What you needed, she thought, was Susan’s ability, her courage, to fix your eyes on the point oat which the worst things would be over, gotten through. But what an effort that took.” (p164)

This novel has its merits; but, If you are going to read one Alice McDermott book, read Someone.

I’ve read a LOT of fiction this year: 20 of the 28 books I’ve read have been novels or short stories. I’ve also read biographies and American war-era histories along with a smattering of theology. As I look back on my reading list over the past few years this mix has been my wheel house. I feel the desire to break out of my comfort zone and am looking to explore science and other topics. On our road trips we’ve enjoyed Mary Roach being interviewed on Fresh Air and On Point. She sounds delightful and her books sound fascinating. With that in mind, I’ve come up with a list of non-fiction/non-history to read. Leave a comment and let me know if you’ve read any of these and what you think – or what else I should have on my list.

  • Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex.  by Mary Roach
  • Packing for Mars by Mary Roach
  • The Joy of x: A Guided Tour of Math, from One to Infinity by Steven Strogatz
  • The Code Book: The Science of Secrecy from Ancient Egypt to Quantum Cryptography
  • Code (Developer Best Practices) by Charles Petzoid (not a programming book despite the title)
  • Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History by S.C. Gwynne
  • Firehouse by David Halberstam

Let me know what you think.

View all my reviews

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