SOMEONE opens with seven-year-old Marie, a girl with thick glasses, waiting for her father to come home from work while the neighborhood boys are playing stickball:
“I shivered and waited, little Marie. Sole survivor, now, of that street scene. Waited for the first sighting of my father, coming up from the subway in his hat and coat, most beloved among all those ghosts.”
In Marie’s small and insular world, we meet her young neighbor, Pegeen Chehab, who upon her return home tells Marie that she fell on the subway but was helped by a very handsome young man, who she hopes to see again, even if it means she has to pretend to fall. She calls herself an “amadan,” a fool, a word Marie has never heard and will never forget. What Pegeen doesn’t know is that she will, in fact, fall again soon, except it will be in her parents’ basement and she will die. Marie vividly remembers Pegeen’s wake and being picked up to kiss her goodbye while she lay in the coffin at the funeral parlor. We also meet Marie’s best friend, Gerty Hanson, whose warm and fun-loving mother is expecting another child and will die while in childbirth. All of this is happening while her beloved father becomes ill. He, too, will eventually die.
"Alice McDermott’s gift lies in composing the extraordinary out of the ordinary and finding the sacred in the small moments of everyday life. Almost every word here conveys a quiet elegance and is imbued with weight and meaning."
By that point in the novel, Marie is an adult, and her brother, Gabe, has decided to become a priest. After administering last rites to his father, Gabe chooses to leave the priesthood and move back with Marie and her hardworking, weary Irish mother. She starts dating one of the old neighborhood boys, Walter Hartnett, who walks with a limp and has promised to marry her. One night, Walter takes Marie out to dinner and breaks up with her. Shocked and deeply hurt, Gabe consoles her by taking her for a long walk: “It is solved by walking.” Unbeknownst to Marie, she will meet her future husband, Tom Commeford, a former colleague of Gabe’s, on this walk.
At the end of the walk, Gabe says:
“I’m sorry this happened to you, Marie,” he said wearily. “There’s a lot of cruelty in the world.” And then he waved his hat to indicate the paths through the park and all the people on them. “You’ll be lucky if this is your worst taste of it.”
Turning away from him, I leaned once more to examine the stinging blister beneath my stocking. I didn’t believe him. Didn’t believe there could be a worst taste of it….
“Who’s going to love me?” I said. The brim of his hat cast his eyes in shadow. Behind him, the park teemed with strangers. “Someone,” he told me. “Someone will.”
Marie eventually gets a job working for Mr. Fagin at the local funeral parlor as a hostess. She greets and directs mourners, and reassures men who have brought their beloved wife, mother or daughter that a woman works on the premises and, in the words of Mr. Fagin, “Maybe she’s the one who buttoned up her dress or put the lipstick on her or fixed her hair.” Marie accepts the job after Mr. Fagin tells her that he will buy her five new dresses, a luxury she has never before experienced. She remembers his benevolence when her father died and that it was he who lifted her up as child to kiss Pegeen goodbye during her wake.
Marie marries Tom Commeford, settling down in a house on Long Island with her four children. This is the house Gabe will eventually come home to after suffering a nervous breakdown. By this time, Marie’s children are adults, and although it’s never explicitly stated, it’s implied that Gabe’s depression and eventual breakdown is a result of his homosexuality.
SOMEONE, a lyrical, beautifully written book, follows the trajectory of Marie’s seemingly ordinary life, one defined by death and loss. Alice McDermott’s gift lies in composing the extraordinary out of the ordinary and finding the sacred in the small moments of everyday life. Almost every word here conveys a quiet elegance and is imbued with weight and meaning.
Reviewed by Jennifer Romanello on September 13, 2013