Click here to read the story in its entirety on The New Yorker webpage. Alice McDermott's "These Short, Dark Days" was originally published in the August 24, 2015 issue of The New Yorker.

August 23, 2015I like Alice McDermott’s work, at least the little of it that I’ve read. Last year Picador put out some lovely editions of her back catalog, and this reminds me that I really need to make time for them.

In the meantime, please share any thoughts you have on “These Short, Dark Days,” or Alice McDermott in general, below.

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By |2015-08-17T00:48:45-04:00August 17th, 2015|Categories: Alice McDermott, New Yorker Fiction|Tags: |16 Comments

16 Comments

  1. Roger August 17, 2015 at 10:32 pm

    This story is so beautifully written and so unremittingly bleak, drenched in despair on every page. It is quintessentially literary, quintessentially New Yorker. But, do we ever reach a point where the gloominess of this genre (if one may call literary fiction a genre) becomes too much?

  2. Archer August 18, 2015 at 4:14 pm

    I agree, Roger. As I was reading this, I thought, “this is SUCH a New Yorker story”. I suppose that’s largely because the magazine has such a rich history with Irish writers, and McDermott writes in that milieu. I was surprised that it’s only her third piece for the magazine.

    Anyway, I also thought it was beautiful, and one of the best fiction pieces they’ve run in a while. This is exquisite classical short storytelling. McDermott’s sense of time and place is highly authentic; every detail is perfectly placed. And it all builds to a genuinely shattering conclusion. My only note would be that it’s a little *too* perfect, too refined. There’s not much room for surprise here. But that’s a churlish complaint, I realize. It’s a very good story.

  3. Adrienne August 19, 2015 at 4:05 pm

    I am editing a book right now, so this story was a great break! No obvious twist or surprise, but the characterization of Sister St. Savior – the irony of her person, her role, her sentiments – moved in subtle coils…

    I loved it.

    It was the first McDermott I have read and I look forward to more.

    The “short, dark days” were felt in every sentence. Fantastic craft.

    A gem.

  4. Jan Guerin August 23, 2015 at 6:13 pm

    Like other readers I too loved the story and was moved by the tragedy of it. Is that combination of unemployment, a child on the way and depression particularly Irish? Or is it universal and simply captured by such a skilled and sensitive writer? I don’t know, but it is a thought I frequently have when I read stories of the Irish working class…(is that a redundancy?).
    I agree with Roger and Adrienne and Archet that it went so deep as to perhaps lack the much needed tonic of redemption and hope. Stories of this tone are the ones I am reluctant to recommend to others for there is the frequent response from some readers that. ” Oh, but it’s so depressing!”
    I loved the story; a lot.

  5. Sean H August 23, 2015 at 9:30 pm

    I didn’t find it particularly depressing, just a dose of historical realism, but in response to the point made above about how lack of originality or “not much room for surprise,” is a “churlish complaint,” I would disagree. It’s a seminal limitation of this piece. The story is well-wrought, engaging and a fast read, but it lacks a trenchant quality and I doubt it will stay with me. NY Nuns always remind of DeLillo, who deploys them in a more original fashion, and the good/conflicted nun theme is present in “Vera Drake” and “Doubt” and very recently in Soderbergh’s “The Knick” (a lot of similarities in that last one in particular). Not to mention the story’s milieu brings to mind Colm Toibin, topically, and William Maxwell, structurally. McDermott’s a hell of a craftswoman but this one is just a bit too “mom fiction” for me. Competent, professional and accomplished if a little lacking in originality, flair, verve.

  6. Greg August 23, 2015 at 11:32 pm

    Thank you Sean for your analysis of the story and on the other comments….and I love your “Mom Fiction” label!…..please continue to share your thoughts throughout the autumn on the New Yorker stories!

  7. Adrienne August 27, 2015 at 9:32 am

    Interesting! Greg, what is “mom fiction” to you? I have used that term quite a bit for novels (I am a mom and a book snob!), but this story didn’t match my idea of the “genre”. I’d love to know how you define it!

    Thanks!

  8. Greg August 27, 2015 at 1:52 pm

    Hi Adrienne…..I believe Sean used the label “Mom Fiction” as the writing is very mature, feminine and classical in structure…….just like how someone could call William Trevor’s work “Dad Fiction”……..(sorry Trevor B, I know how much you love his work!)

  9. Trevor Berrett August 27, 2015 at 2:40 pm

    Hmmm. These are new terms to me, and at a glance appear pejorative, so I’d love some more ideas about their definitions. As for William Trevor, what if a lot of his work is about women? Does that exclude him from the label or is it not at all about content and more about style and tradition?

  10. Greg August 30, 2015 at 2:29 pm

    I think “Mom and Dad Fiction” is referring to the mature audiences they target….so Sean and I aren’t meaning to be insulting, rather we are saying that, on the most part, readers over 40 will fully appreciate the artistry from McDermott and Trevor.

  11. Sean H August 30, 2015 at 5:50 pm

    I think it is both slightly pejorative and as much about audience as content. Some would say the band Wilco (or Jeff Tweedy in particular, in his other projects as well) was a stalwart indie rock/alt-country staple band that has recent crossed into the territory of “dad rock,” bringing to mind, say, The Eagles, or some band like that. William Trevor may be in danger of going from Dad Fiction to Granddad Fiction. Nobody stays young forever but it’s more in how you do it. In some of Philip Roth’s later quartet of novels, for example, his topicality reflects his advanced age (ie: “Everyman” or “The Humbling”) but in others he hearkens back to a more youthful vigor in his fictional rhetoric (ie: “Nemesis” or “Indignation”).
    Mom Fiction is then both topically “feminine” and something that would appeal to an older demographic. It works for movies too. ie: Judy Dench in “Philomena,” that’s a Mom Movie. The trailer for the adaptation of Toibin’s “Brooklyn” looks very Mom Movie as well. Are there individual “moms” who are more psyched for Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight”? Sure. But in general not so much. Alice Sebold equals Mom Fiction. John LeCarre does not. And it works across genders too. Frank McCourt equals Mom Fiction. Mary Gaitskill does not.

  12. Adrienne September 1, 2015 at 4:22 pm

    I googled it. B/c I still feel uneducated at times – and Good Reads has a “Mom Fiction” genre. I thought it was something I made up that was akin to chick-lit, but about suburban mothers’ lives – Girl on the Train, Gone Girl, Nicholas Sparks, and yes, Alice Sebold. How judgmental am I – for as a stay-at-home mother, I do not like many of these books… I realized it was “feminine” in topic, but didn’t realize it was about an older demographic…

    Interesting to see how my own mind works…

    Thanks!

  13. Greg September 2, 2015 at 11:54 am

    Thank you Sean and Adrienne for sharing your thoughts on these labels. I found this fun!

  14. Kathleen September 2, 2015 at 8:57 pm

    I’m over 40 and a mom, but enjoy a wide variety of writers, including Mary Gaitskill, Alice McDermott, Wm Maxwell, Wm Trevor…though not Alice Sebold. I find little use in such labels. I read probably an equal proportion of female and male writers, so I hate the whole chic lit thing–it’s all a marketing game, in my opinion. At the same time, I generally dislike books that my mother-in-law recommends, like Gone Girl and Girl on the Train. Maybe what makes something Mom Fiction is all relative, but I wouldn’t put an age on it. But I admit to being a snob about literary vs. popular fiction.

    As far as Alice McDermott, I think Charming Billy was brilliant. If you like her short fiction, I’d start there. She really delves into a collection of characters over a long time period, and it has an interesting framing device. I also enjoyed Weddings and Wakes, in part because of its structural eccentricities…though it’s also rather bleak. I was less anamored with her later novels…they seem more episodic and, while the writing is lovely, I never could connect to the characters. I’ve liked this story better than most of her more recent writing.

  15. Greg September 3, 2015 at 9:02 am

    Thank you Kathleen for sharing your mindset on reading…….and I will definitely check out “Charming Billy” and get back to you!

  16. Adrienne September 3, 2015 at 1:16 pm

    I agree with Kathy that the labels are about marketing, but I also use labels to group books I do and do not like. I designated mom-fiction that was non-literary, about some sort of Hollywood (or Bethany House Publishers) idea of wife-and-motherhood, and with a particular cover – women in flowing, sheer, dresses in fields; a dock that goes out to a deep, fog-covered lake; and wood-cuts of small towns. Age never really came into for me. Just the intense targeting to women only….

    But the funny thing is, I like so many stories – so many different types of books. Some are literary and some are not. I even like some of what I dismiss as an entire genre – the mom-fiction.

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