Daily Archives: January 1, 2014

‘Someone’ by Alice McDermott


2013, 232 p.

I hadn’t heard of the book; hadn’t heard of the writer. Don’t know why I picked it up from the library shelf, but I’m really glad that I did.  It’s a very auspicious way to start my reading year.

‘Someone’ is such an ordinary, anodyne term. “Who’s going to love me?” asks the main character, Marie, after she has been dumped by her boyfriend. “Someone,” says her brother “Someone will.” 

‘Someone’ sounds interchangeable and generic, but what we have been given in this book is a very particular consciousness within an otherwise ordinary, unremarkable person.  We first glimpse Marie as a child, in thick glasses, sitting on the stoop of her Brooklyn home in the 1930s, waiting for her father to emerge from the subway on the way home from work.  We see her life in shards, rather than one continuous narrative.  We see her as an old woman, new mother, worker in her first job, middle aged sister.  She is utterly, lovingly human.

Such beautiful writing.  Here she is, frantic with grief as her first boyfriend breaks up with her:

I sat on the edge of the bed.  I wanted to take my glasses off, fling them across the room.  To tear the new hat from my head and fling it, too.  Put my hands to my scalp and peel off the homely face.  Unbutton the dress, unbuckle the belt, remove the frail slip.  I wanted to reach behind my neck and unhook the flesh from the bone, open it along the zipper of my spine, step out of my skin and fling it to the floor.  Back shoulder stomach and breast.  Trample it.  Raise a fist to God for how He had shaped me in that first darkness: unlovely and unloved. (p. 79)

Darkness and light are motifs that are touched on in several places in the book.  Blind Bill Corrigan sits on a chair out in the street as the children play around him, and Marie herself suffers from poor eyesight and nearly goes blind herself.  Afraid of the dark as a child, the light is left on while she falls asleep and she wakes to “the soft-edged geometric patches of streetlight on the ceiling, across one wall.”  Woken by a bad dream as an adult, “the walls of the room were lit with lozenges of streetlight, long rectangles and a thin cross”.

Marie does not travel far in her life: from Brooklyn to Long Island.  Place has bound her to people forever as they move in and out of her life.  When blind Bill Corrigan dies, a childhood friend- more than a childhood friend really,- reappears at the wake and recalls Bill Corrigan sitting on the chair:

“Remember that chair he sat in every day?”

I nodded. “I was just thinking about it” It might have been the first time in my life I understood what an easy bond it was, to share a neighbourhood as we had done, to share a time past. “It’s still there, ” I added, as if this should amaze him. “At least it was there this morning.  No one’s had the heart to take it in.”  (p 140)

In some ways the book reminded me of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn with the Irish-American family in the same neighbourhood.  However, this book shucks off any attempt to be chronological as it jumps from childhood to old age, back and forth.  Events occur, sometimes foreshadowed and other times echoing on. McDermott’s control of the narrative is masterful- there’s not a word wasted, and connections emerge as discoveries, unforced and unlaboured.

It’s only a short book- just over 200 pages.   It says much, but it is stripped down and pure.  Beautiful.

My rating: Is it too early on 1 January to give a 10?

Sourced from: Yarra Plenty Regional Library

Read because: it was just there on the ‘new books’ shelf.  What a find!