McDermott is at the height of her powers here, charging her seemingly ordinary scenes with the possibility of danger, of terror or mystery and, on occasion, radiance. She does so with the lightest touch, with the silkiest humor, and yet at the same time she probes deeply into the moment. And so there is suspense when a professor plies an earnest student with whisky, when the Keane children play with toy soldiers on a windy dune, when a group of college boys argue about Halloween decorations in a bar, when a spinster rides a bus at night.
The Washington Post
There is no sentimentality to Ms. McDermott’s portrait of the Keane family, no romanticizing of their story. Instead, she uses her lyrical, pointillist prose to conjure the homely details of their middle-class life on Long Island: the ordinary pleasures of a family trip to the beach, the aggravations of tending to four squabbling children, the claustrophobia of marital discord where a simple silence can become "a remarkable concoction" of "hurt, impatience, recrimination, blood-red anger, fear, worry" … her easy authority with this material, combined with her clear-eyed sympathy for her characters, results in a moving, old-fashioned story about longing and loss and sorrow.
The New York Times
A master at capturing Irish-Catholic American suburban life, particularly in That Night (1987) and the National Book Award-winning Charming Billy (1998), McDermott returns for this sixth novel with the Keane family of Long Island, who get swept up in the wake of the Vietnam War. When John and Mary Keane marry shortly after WWII, she's on the verge of spinsterhood, and he's a vet haunted by the death of a young private in his platoon. Jacob, their first-born, is given the dead soldier's name, an omen that will haunt the family when Jacob is killed in Vietnam (hauntingly underplayed by McDermott). In vignette-like chapters, some of which are stunning set pieces, McDermott probes the remaining family's inner lives. Catholic faith and Irish heritage anchor John and Mary's feelings, but their children experience their generation's doubt, rebellion and loss of innocence: next eldest Michael, who had always dominated Jacob, drowns his guilt and regret in sex and drugs; Anne quits college and moves to London with a lover; Clare, a high school senior, gets pregnant. The story of '60s and '70s suburbia has been told before, and McDermott has little to say about the Vietnam War itself. But she flawlessly encapsulates an era in the private moments of one family's life. (Sept.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
In her sixth novel, National Book Award winner McDermott (Charming Billy) continues her examination of the modern Irish American Catholic experience. Through a series of linked vignettes, this quiet story highlights events in the Keane family of Long Island over several decades. John and Mary Keane's somewhat surprising engagement in the late 1940s (both are a little past the usual marrying age) brings about an enduring union. Together, they manage to meet the challenges of raising four children on a limited income, confronting the social and religious struggles of the mid-20th century, and-hardest of all-losing to the Vietnam War the son they had named for a long-dead World War II soldier. McDermott knows this domestic milieu intimately, and her sure authorial hand illuminates the inner lives of these ordinary people in a way that resonates beyond the mundane to the broad human condition. Recommended for most fiction collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 5/15/06.]-Starr E. Smith, Fairfax Cty. P.L., VA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
A disarmingly understated tale of mid-to-late-20th-century Long Island Catholics from McDermott, who has come to own this particular literary turf after five penetrating novels and a National Book Award. Mary and John Keane meet in a Schrafft's restaurant shortly after WWII, fall in love, marry and raise four children. Conventional, middle-class Catholics whose lives center on their neighborhood parish and their family, they have their quirks. Mary half-despises her "best friend" Pauline, a lonely alcoholic who plays spinster aunt to the Keane children. John names their eldest son Jacob, after a young Jewish soldier with whom he served in the war and whose death continues to haunt him. John and Mary have their differences, but their marriage is solid, while their protective, worried love for their children is palpable and real. John's dismay that gentle, good-natured Jacob lacks the athletic or intellectual gifts of his younger brother Michael is particularly credible and well-rendered. Annie has a special connection with her mother, while youngest daughter Clare, whose emergency birth occurs at home with the help of a neighbor, forms a close bond with Pauline. As the children grow up through the '50s and '60s, their story ambles through disconnected, if charming, moments, like Mary's trip with Annie to view the Pieta at the World's Fair. When the kids reach adolescence, their lives give the narrative some forward momentum. Spunky, bookish Annie ends up in England with her British boyfriend. Jacob is killed in Vietnam. Michael becomes a teacher. Clare, a high-school senior, finds herself pregnant and decides to keep the baby. The novel closes with her wedding and the bittersweetpossibilities it promises. McDermott (Child of My Heart, 2002, etc.) infuses the undulating plot with the knowledge that lives become most vivid in small moments of connection, flashlight beams (a recurring motif) illuminating the dark. Genuinely moving yet amorphous, like a remembered fragrance that you can't quite place.
From the Publisher
[A] wondrous new novel . . . Child of My Heart extends [McDermott's] artistic triumphs, and we should rejoice.” —Los Angeles Times Book Review with praise for Child of My Heart
“Has something classic about it . . . [Its] craftsmanship and its moral intelligence are as one . . .Immaculate.” —The New York Times Book Review with praise for Child of My Heart
“Richly textured, intricately woven . . . A work not only of, but about, the imagination.” —Margaret Atwood, The New York Review of Books with praise for Child of My Heart
“For all her intricate narrative design, it is the depth of feeling in Alice McDermott's fictionthe losses tallied and the steps not taken, as finely calibrated as summer rainthat has brought her such high regard. With her prismatic truths and narrative switchbacks, she captures a world so internal that her characters themselves would hardly be able to express it; it is instead the perfect gesturethe barely noticed frown, the hand silently extendedthat delivers the entirety of that hidden realm . . . Charming Billy is a remarkable and beautifully told novel, with overlays of prose and insight that are simply luminescent.” —Gail Caldwell, The Boston Sunday Globe with praise for Charming Billy