Monday, February 10, 2014

Book Review: Someone by Alice McDermott

I recently joined a local book club through, and the first book I was able to join them for was Someone by Alice McDermott. I didn't read the book because it was historical fiction about Brooklyn; I read it because I've been trying to "officially" join this book club for months now, and this was the book they chose during the month I could make it to a meeting. I was excited to discover, though, that it was the story of a girl growing up in Brooklyn during the interwar period.

That much I got from the description on the back of the book. As I started reading, though, I began to realize that the main character, Marie, was growing up in Carroll Gardens, or South Brooklyn, as it might have been known at the time. She even attended St. Mary Star of the Sea Catholic Church, which was where my Madigan and Mulcahy families would have gone to church when they were living at 85 Luqueer Street! I enjoyed this aspect of the book, even though my direct ancestors were no longer living in the neighborhood at the time the story is set. (Marie would have been more or less a contemporary of my grandparents, but my grandfather grew up in Park Slope and my grandmother, whose parents were from South Brooklyn, grew up in Bay Ridge and Flatbush.)

Given the amount of time I spend researching in Brooklyn, I always appreciate a book that gives me a flavor of the borough in general, or the culture of neighborhoods like Carroll Gardens in particular, and Someone did this in excellent fashion. I think anyone who is interested in this era of Brooklyn history would find this an interesting glimpse at the time and the culture, though it's obviously not a history book or a scholarly tome.

The book was, luckily, equally enjoyable as a work of literature. The narrative of the book switches from Marie's childhood to various stages of her adulthood, and while this is not what my linear brain would have preferred, it worked well and wasn't difficult to follow. My book club had some great discussions about the relationship between Marie and her brother Gabe and the dichotomy they represented, but I was also glad that as they grew, the author added some nuance to the depiction of them as polar opposites when they were young. If I had to describe it in a sentence, I'd say that the book is primarily about familial relationships and the way a person - and a family - can grow and change over a lifetime. It's a really good read, and while some of the book club members thought it was hard to get into, I found it impossible to put down from the very beginning. I recommend it highly!

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