Someone by Alice McDermott is a lovely story about the most ordinary heroine who ever appeared in a book. The story follows the life of Marie Commeford, through her childhood in Brooklyn as part of a loving family, her first romance, her work in a funeral parlour as a ‘consoler’ and her adulthood and happy marriage.
Have you ever noticed how often people who have had happy childhoods usually enjoy happy marriages? Marie is a good example of this, even if she is a fictional character.
As a child Marie usually took a walk with her father after the evening meal, where he would duck in somewhere to have a drink before they went home for a family evening, where quite often, her older brother Gabe read poetry, practising his oration in preparation to become a priest. As a family of Irish immigrants in Brooklyn, a priest in the family would usually be something to brag about, however Maries’ mother often commented that their family were not all that enamoured of the church. Gabe did become a priest, although he lost his vocation early in his career, soon after his and Marie’s father died.
Marie resists learning to cook, to the point of sabotaging soda bread when her mother insists on trying to teach her. Marie explains her resistance to taking on this responsibility because she associates her best friend’s mother dying in childbirth with her friend having learned to cook. Marie also resists getting a job or taking on other family responsibilities, although eventually she is pushed into taking a job in a local funeral home, where she is supplied with five new dresses and told to put a dab of Evening in Paris perfume behind her ears. (My mother wore Evening in Paris perfume as a young woman, and raved all her life about how pretty it was).
Eventually she found herself a boyfriend, the not so appealing Walter Hartnett. Walter actually chose Marie, and she seems happy to have a boyfriend but not madly in love with him, but when Walter tells her he is marrying someone else, Marie is heartbroken. (The lesson here is that if he is not all that appealing, then he is not for you. Keep looking until you find someone who is appealing to you. Take note, I did not say handsome, or rich or popular or whatever, I said appealing. Also, remember what I said earlier about a happy childhood? People who enjoyed happy childhoods generally become happy adults).
Anyway, Marie gets over her broken heart and eventually meets the lovely Tom, who becomes her husband. Tom is much more appealing than Walter. The most awful parts of this book were Marie’s experience of childbirth, which has the most harrowing descriptions. Marie’s doctor advises her not to have more children and her mother goes so far as to suggest keeping a spoon under her pillow to hit Tom with if he became amorous. Marie ignores their advice and lived to tell the tale. She lives a happy life with Tom, with more children eventually and grandchildren. Gabe never seems to find the same joy in life that Marie has and suffers from mental illness, although happily he and Marie keep their close bond throughout their lives.
The stories of Marie’s life are quite ordinary and her adventures are small, but this book is beautifully written and I would be happy to re-read Someone.