Monday, September 18, 2006

After This by Alice McDermott

Hope I make sense tonight. I think I might be coming down with something because I feel a little woozy. Luckily, at work, no one has needed me to be particularly knowledgeable tonight. If there are glaring errors or nonsensical statements I will go back and fix them when I feel better.

Alice McDermott specializes in Irish-American-Catholic suburban life and is a National Book Award winner for her novel Charming Billy.

By the age of thirty Mary was not expected to marry, having settled into life taking care of her father and brother. But contrary to all expectations, the spinster meets and charms John, a war veteran. This novel follows John and Mary Keane and their children through courtship, raising children and enduring loss. When their eldest child goes to Vietnam and never returns the entire family is profoundly affected and it shapes the texture and direction of their lives (and the novel) forever.

I usually like quiet novels but for some reason I could not lose myself in the quietness of these people's lives. Part of the appeal of the quiet novel (for me) is the ability to become a part of the novel not just an onlooker and I could not quite get there with this book. Still it was beautifully written and in a different mood it might have had a profound impact on me.

Oddly enough, the small vignette that I particularly liked takes place as a priest and a pianist are waiting for the daughter's bridal party to arrive and has very little to do with the family and the rest of the novel. The priest is listening to the pianist, a student a Julliard, and thinks "and then there was a kid like this, who played in a trance......not the engine for the instrument but a conduit for some music that was already there, that had always been there, apprehensible, inscrutable, really, something just beyond the shell of earth and sky that had always been there and that needed only this boy, a boy like this, to bring it, briefly, briefly, to his untrained ear."

Isn't that what we all hope for every time we hear someone sing or play an instrument? I have heard that kind of music maybe twice in my life but am always hoping for the next performance to hear it again. Don't get me wrong, I have heard some wonderful musicians with beautiful voices, technique, etc... but only two that have transcended the composition and soared above that to achieve something extraordinary.

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