Thursday, January 31, 2008

AFTER THIS by Alice McDermott

After reading the final few pages of After This by Alice McDermott, I decided that this book is about celebrating life, although the family that the book follows for a generation is anything but joyous. The story is told in third person by an omniscient narrator, and, for baby boomers, it will strike a number of chords of nostalgia. At the beginning, the focus is on Mary, who becomes the matriarch, and then later on her husband and each of their four children, particularly the girls, Annie and Clare. Each character is then sort of written off with a sentence or two describing his or her future. In a way, this unusual technique was satisfying, in that it gave closure to that person's life. The tragedy that strikes this family is told in an almost detached voice, but the ramifications are insightful, particularly with regard as to how they are treated thereafter by relatives and acquaintances, as sort of shabby royalty. I was also intrigued by the notion that history repeats itself, as exemplified by the Mary/Pauline and later the Annie/Grace relationships. A lonely woman befriends a better-adjusted woman and later becomes dependent on her in some way. My favorite part is where Annie and Grace visit a professor's house, and Annie sees the life of the professor and her husband as ideal and unachievable. She's disappointed to find that Edith Wharton was not the spinster without passion that she had thought her life would resemble. Why are her expectations so low? This is a thought-provoking read and was runner-up for the 2007 Pulitzer.

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