By Jennifer Levasseur
There should be a retroactive book-of-the-year award, some prize or label that acknowledges that a novel exceeds everything you read in the year of its publication, even if you missed it in its first twelve months of life. Still, I wonder, how did I miss it? Why wasn’t everyone talking about this book? Did I just fail to hear the praise? And if I missed something as good as this in 2013, what am I missing now?
Is there a name for the phobia I’m contracting that involves a terror of choosing the wrong books and of life being too short to read all the ones I want to?
Alice McDermott’s Someone is the novel sending me into this tailspin. I knew McDermott from her wonderful 1998 National Book Award-winning Charming Billy, but over the years she had faded from my literary map.
Someone reminded me, after having read a string of competent but uninspiring books, that fiction can still feel more vital than life. It can make me unable to sit still even while I’m convinced there’s nothing better I could be doing than trilling along her sentences that glide among moments in the life of an Irish-American woman named Marie who as a child adored her father’s scent when he returned from work, who with one ill-chosen word found her tongue coated in soap, who spoiled her mother’s soda bread so she didn’t have to grow up.
On its surface, Someone is a simple story of a life, one full of ordinary hardships and joys, full of the scents and tastes and touches that mark one day from another, of being a child and turning into a mother.
Though the novel contains only two hundred thirty pages, I found myself stretching it across months, dipping into Marie’s days of courting and comforting the bereaved at a funeral home and during her first pregnancy when she faints in a deli and is soothed with tapioca pudding and roast beef on rye, and then ruminating on it for days.
There are still great novels being written about growing up and falling in love and coping with family—without gimmick, without pretense—that make it new, that force us to look at our own precious lives with fresh fondness for our vulnerability and our resilience.
Read Someone. Mark Alice McDermott firmly on your literary map.