by Alice McDermott
Originally published in the January 30, 2012 issue of The New Yorker.

Just as I was crawling out of the hole I was in, my blog gets hacked! Things are back up, and I will finally start catching up on my reading of The New Yorker. I will have thoughts here soon.

Liked it? Take a second to support The Mookse and the Gripes on Patreon!
By |2016-07-11T17:43:24-04:00January 26th, 2012|Categories: Alice McDermott, New Yorker Fiction|Tags: |5 Comments


  1. Aaron January 27, 2012 at 5:24 pm

    Welcome back. Of all that you’ve got to catch up on, especially post-hack (still having some redirect issues, so you might still have some residual viruses/interference to look into), this is probably the story that can wait the longest. Simply put, I found it to be sloppily edited; that is, I’ve no problem with an author writing until they find their ending — and I think there’s a fine ending here — but I’d appreciate it if they could then go back and tighten up the bits that are no longer necessary to get there.

    It doesn’t help that Marie is such an idiot, too. It’s fine for her to be a love-struck and naive seventeen-year-old girl; I enjoyed the way she was described, even though I thought it sounded a bit false and showy. (I’ve never been a seventeen-year-old girl, so maybe it’s accurate.) But from what McDermott tells us — and very early on, SPOILERS! — she remains obsessed with this man, and it’s hard to tell from what we’re shown of their two months of “dating” what exactly was so special that he would linger. I get that he’s the first person to show interest in her, but it’s in such a weird way (the breast incident, never repeated, and his general lack of attention) that I just don’t buy it. And then there’s the break-up itself, which feels really absurd; people may actually act like that, but would Walter?

    The only part I really bought entirely was the older brother’s attempts to calm her by relating the anecdote about young Walter — about the ways in which people can change: how cruel people can become kind, and kind people can become cruel. How, despite all of that, if you wait, and look, and allow it, you can find someone to love you, too. (Though the underlying fear is that they’ll eventually change one day and leave you.) There are undercurrents of that in Gabe’s decision to leave the priesthood — one day, he realized it wasn’t for him — although there’s so much there that’s unspoken. (His random encounter with a former parishioner, Tom, seems particularly sticky and unnecessary for THIS story.)

    This is the sort of story I can’t help rambling about, mainly because there’s not any one thing worth latching on to — just a series of nits that detract from the one thing you really do like. I’ve got more on it here: http://bit.ly/xWQtQo.

  2. Ken January 29, 2012 at 4:57 pm

    I totally disagree. I thought this was masterful. Sure, the coming-of-age narrative and the Irish East Coast Catholic milieu are time-worn elements but I was amazed at the stylistic mastery here. As with Alice Munro, I find myself fascinated with the type of thing that on mere story description alone I would never want to read-an old woman reminiscing about sex and romance way long ago. What makes this great is her amazing sensual descriptive palette-smells, touches, the plays of light etc. She completely evokes private memories and subjectivity. As for Alice being stupid, I’d say she’s about what you might expect from a sheltered girl very long ago in a far more conservative age. I found her obsession to be exactly that: obessions aren’t well-thought out or reasonable. That’s why they’re obsessions.

  3. jerry January 30, 2012 at 12:14 pm

    I am with Ken on this one..I thought it a great story..maybe the best I’ve read in TNY in over a year or more.

    It will be a long time before i forget the tears running down the blind man’s face or the question “who’s going to love me..?”

  4. Jon January 31, 2012 at 9:10 pm

    You know, this is really odd–I find myself evenly divided between the Aaron and Ken “camps.” While reading the story, a part of me wanted to be off doing something else, a part of me appreciated the general milieu being described, and the implied understanding of what it means to want someone (anyone?) special in your life.

    The one part of the narrative that rang sloppy to me was the predictable drama of the girl putting on her best clothes, “not being sure what she hoped for,” and then getting dumped. That felt like a “Sex and the City” plot-line to me.

    Otherwise my response makes me feel unsure of my abilities as a reader (?), or just conflicted about something in the story (?).

  5. reba February 1, 2012 at 9:49 am

    I totally agree with Aaron.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.