Book info

After This (2006)

After This (2006)
Rating
3.28 of 5 Votes: 5
ISBN
0374168091 (ISBN13: 9780374168094)
languge
English
publisher
farrar, straus and giroux
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After This (2006)
After This (2006)

About book: This is one of those novels that I thought to be a so-so and yet it turned out to be exceptionally good. For me, its strongest suit is the opening scenes. There is no earth-shattering event like atomic bomb or an unforgettable quote but just a description of a woman coming out from a late morning visit to a church to pray. That scene is so vividly described complete with the wind blowing and the and a very detailed account of the church’s steps, the feet of that woman, the sea breeze and the office people walking at the marina on their way to the lunch. Alice McDermott’s (born 1953) prose particularly in this opening reminded me of Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. Very apt because both novels’ main theme is “life goes on” no matter what happens in our lives and both deal and are focused on a certain family particularly the relationship between parents and their children.After This is about an Irish-American family living in New York and its suburbs on Long Island in the 1960s. It starts with Mary Keane coming out from the church praying for herself and the Vietnam War. At 29, she is still single and living with her father and a younger brother. Upon coming out from the church, she is greeted by strong wind. Amidst the office workers who have just finished their lunch, Mary goes to a café for her lunch. There she meets John Keane who becomes her husband and then later a father of her children: Jacob who has to join the army by picking the wrong number in a lottery; Michael who typifies a normal son by going to college; Annie who is a book-lover influenced by her mother’s friend Pauline and who plans to study in England until she meets a young man in a bus so she drops her plan and marries him; and Claire who is a devout Catholic and a loving daughter who goes wayward towards the end and breaks her parents’ hearts. It is Claire who towards the end goes back to school after her life with her boyfriend as if saying “after this” (in reference to her failed love life) and uttered “life goes on.” The plot sounds quite common but it is McDermott’s Woolf-like prose and the many snippets of the characters' lives that follow the opening that appear like short stories collated beautifully like photographs in one big album make this an exceptionally good and definitely a memorable reading experience. This novel almost won over Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic novel The Road for the Pulitzer award in 2007. I read that book by McCarthy last week. I neither liked nor hated it so I got curious why it won over the other finalists. So I immediately picked up this book and will later read the other finalist Richard Powers’ The Echo Maker. But Powers can wait since I have read his Generosity several months back and, like that one of McCarthy, it was just an okay book.I will definitely look for my copy of Charming Billy, the winner of 1998 National Book Award, That Night a finalist for the 1987 National Book Award, the Pen/Faulkner Award, and the Pulitzer Prize, and At Weddings and Wakes a finalist for the 1992 Pulitzer Prize. I have no doubt that her three finalist novels for Pulitzer and one book that won National Book Award are proofs that Alice McDermott is a force to reckon with among the contemporary American novelists.

This is the story of Mary and John Keane and their four children. They are an Irish-Catholic family living in Long Island, NY. We meet Mary Rose a thirty-ish single woman who lives with her father and brother, her mother is dead. She wonders if she will ever get married. John Keane is home from the war with a bum leg as a result. They meet one day at a diner over lunch and our story of their life together begins.I am not a Catholic, but I love reading novels with characters, like Mary and John, with strong ties like the Irish Catholic have to their faith and to family. I enjoyed meeting all the different families of different ethnicity in the neighborhood. The Persichetti's, the Italian family on their street and the old man who owned the local grocery, Hungarian or Russian, I can't remember now. That's the draw back to an audio book, its hard to go back and double check things:( And there's Pauline, Mary's friend who never marries and has no family. She adopts Mary and her family as her own. Mary and John were young during WWII and their kids are growing up in the Vietnam War era. So many changes from one generation to the next.This book was wonderful. I really hated for it to end. Ms. McDermott describes the mundane, day-to-day events of middle-class people—births and deaths, the fixing of meals, the ebb and flow of love, and the development of relationships inside the family and out. I love how she doesn't deal with all the details of the characters lives, but focuses on their inner lives. By the time the book is finished you feel like you know them intimately. She seamlessly moves from one character to the next, exposing them to us not only thru their own thoughts and actions but thru people they encounter like the Catholic school secretary, Mr. Persichetti, Pauline, the grocer, the lady in line in front of Mary at the fair, their priest. And of course each other.I don't want to tell you too much about the story because it's so much better to let it all unfold new as you read it. But we have a hurricane, a home birth, devastated families from the Vietnam war, abortion being legitimized... You can read a nice size excerpt @ http://www.npr.org/books/titles/13801...
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Reviews
K
Life proves to be too short once again, and I'm not going to bother finishing this. I remember picking up Charming Billy multiple times in the States and thinking, it must be me, because this book got rave reviews. I finally managed to force myself to finish it when I had moved to Israel and was in the throes of a book shortage and I still didn't get what all the hype was about. I remember feeling like, I should like Alice McDermott. She writes poetically, and she seems like a deep author -- why is this leaving me cold?I had a similar experience here. Somehow, even with all her characters' rambling introspection (which made up most of the book, at least so far), I never felt like I really knew them. I couldn't visualize them as people and what it would be like to interact with them, and as such, couldn't connect with them. The unexpectedly shifting viewpoints also made it difficult to feel like I knew any of the characters. After reading spending several chapters inside Mary's head, suddenly mid-chapter, without warning, I found myself inside Pauline's. Huh? What just happened? I might have been able to forgive all this if there had been a captivating plot to keep me going, but as of p. 73, there wasn't one. My sense from reading the back covers and the reviews was that the eventual plot was pretty banal and typical -- conventional parents struggle to deal with rebellious kids with the WWII/1960s generation gap as a backdrop and contributing factor. Not that I can't appreciate a plot like that, clicheed though it may be, if it's done well -- I thought Mrs. Bridge A Novel was a really great book exploring these same themes. Here, though, nothing about the book motivated me to keep reading.Marg, PLEASE be bringing me some better books! I'm getting desperate...
Elizabeth
This book is unlike any other I have ever read. Her writing style astounded me... throughout the book I had a hard time defining the plot in my mind, yet I knew the book was incredibly well written and the message clear. Moving through the lives of several character, McDermott smoothly uses foreshadowing, repetition, idioms, and symbolism to emphasize various significant points. This was my first experience reading McDermott, and I must admit I was a little caught off guard. While she moved quickly through the lives of various characters I felt I obtained brief insights into their lives and was able to skip over the monotonous details that fill most novels. There was not a single word wasted and each chapter was crucial to the overall picture of the novel. However, I did feel that there was a lack of the beautiful descriptive language that I was spoiled with in the Mists of Avalon. I also struggled to establish a connection/sense of attachment with some of the characters because each scene was so brief. My biggest challenge with this book however, was the ending... I felt like closure was there but I just missed it. I couldn't quite understand the ending and the last line, which left me perplexed for quite awhile. Overall, the book was an enjoyable read. It didn't take that long, it was interesting, and it held my attention. On the otherhand, I don't plan on rushing into reading another of her books. Mixed feelings on this book. I respect her writing style, I'm just unsure of my feelings regarding the plot and the message she intended for readers to take away.
Peggy
In preparation for McDermott's latest I picked this up at the library. How did I miss it before? Her writing does not remind me of anyone else's. A blurb on the back called it "realist." Realist but without any judgement. Her characters, her narration is like seeing things crystal clear but letting the reader fill in the emotion. She never feeds it to us. I particularly enjoyed the early stories, perhaps because they were from a time of more hope with the later stories set during the Vietnam war. It was almost like reading poetry and made me appreciate McDermott all the more.
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