An homage to the extraordinary transformations experienced in an ordinary life, Someone is the highly anticipated seventh novel from the award-winning author Alice McDermott, beloved for her deft portraits of kinship and memory.
When we first glimpse Marie, who narrates Someone, she is a child in glasses waiting for her father on a Brooklyn stoop. In poignant scenes, Marie experiences powerful transitions, though she stays close to home: bittersweet encounters with an awkward young neighbor named Pegeen, who describes herself as a fool; the heartache and hope of adolescence; her brother’s brief stint as a Catholic priest; and rediscovered courage when she takes on her mother’s role, becoming a wife with a family of her own. Woven through with McDermott’s tender, lyrical voice, this masterly work is a crowning achievement by one of America’s finest writers.
This guide is designed to enrich your discussion of Someone. We hope that the following questions will enhance your reading group’s experience of this mesmerizing novel.
Questions and topics for discussion
1. Why does the memory of Pegeen resonate so profoundly for Marie? Is there a similar story from your youth that has had a lasting effect on your life?
2. What does Marie’s mother try to teach her about becoming a fulfilled woman? What exceptional qualities does Marie’s father possess? How does their marriage shape Marie’s vision of her future?
3. Discuss the novel’s Brooklyn neighborhood as if it were a character. What are its most colorful attributes? How is it transformed over the years while Marie grows up? Do its inhabitants support one another, or is their gossip judgmental? Think about their speculation over the gender of Dora Ryan’s spouse and Bill Corrigan’s frailties.
4. Why does Marie resist her mother’s attempts to urge her to adulthood, from how to read a recipe to the importance of finding a job?
5. How is Marie able to look past the tragic death of Mrs. Hanson and focus on the loveliness of Gerty and her baby sister, Durna? Throughout her life, what beauty does Marie find in mothering?
6. What is the role of fate versus free will in Someone? What did Gabe seek and find in religion? What truths about faith did he eventually learn to embrace?
7. What did Walter Hartnett ultimately get out of his time with Marie? Was she naïve to fall for him, or was he powerfully persuasive? What made Tom Commeford a good match for her?
8. What does Marie discover about life by working for Mr. Fagin?
9. Discuss the story of Margaret Tuohy. How was Marie affected by the bishop’s choice of elegant burial clothes for his sister? What did the experience show Marie about the role of the survivor?
10. As Gabe tells the story of the woman at his first parish who bought mints before attending church each week, what is revealed about the importance of avoiding assumptions? How do perceptions and misperceptions shape the novel’s storyline?
11. What is the effect of the novel’s first-person narration? As Marie narrates her life, what changes do you notice in her view of the world—literal ones, as she endures eye surgeries, and symbolic ones?
12. Discuss Marie’s relationship with her own children. What does she do differently from her parents? What traditions does she carry on? How does McDermott capture the revelations that life and loss bring?
13. How does the depiction of Irish identity and family life in Someone compare to that in similar worlds you’ve explored in other novels by Alice McDermott?
ALICE MCDERMOTT is the author of six previous novels, including After This; Child of My Heart; Charming Billy, winner of the 1998 National Book Award; and At Weddings and Wakes, all published by FSG. That Night, At Weddings and Wakes, and After This were finalists for the Pulitzer Prize. McDermott lives with her family outside Washington, D.C.